Year:  2021

Director:  Guiseppe Tornatore

Rated:  M

Release:  December 8, 2022

Distributor: Hi Gloss

Running time: 156 minutes

Worth: $17.50
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

Ennio Morricone, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Dario Argento, John Williams, Hans Zimmer

… an awe-inspiring and engaging documentary that will definitely satiate lovers of all artforms who wish to understand the creative process and mindset of one of the most iconic creative figures of modern times.

It’s almost impossible to imagine the artform of cinema without the music of Ennio Morricone. From his first credited score for Il Federale in 1961, to his genre-defining work with Sergio Leone’s Westerns and the celebrated soundtrack to Roland Joffé’s The Mission – Morricone’s scores ensured that the music of the movies transcended cinema itself, allowing viewers to see the film within the music itself without the related imagery.

Across director Giuseppe Tornatore’s (Cinema Paradiso) extensive and bibliographic documentary Ennio: The Maestro, the entirety of Ennio’s work as a composer is given space to breathe and be recognised as the work of a true master.

Over an encyclopedic two-and-a-half-hour runtime, Ennio: The Maestro details the composer’s life journey from a young boy growing up under the shadow of his trumpet playing father, through to the end of his career when he passed away with over five hundred film credits to his name in 2020.

The documentary is delivered with compassion, curiosity, and empathy from not just Tornatore as director, but also from the wealth of talking heads who have worked with or have been inspired by Morricone in some capacity: from Dario Argento, Clint Eastwood, John Williams, Roland Joffé, Hans Zimmer, to Quentin Tarantino, amongst many others. As each figure talks about Morricone, there’s a reverence in their voices that suggests that they partially owe their film career to him.

Then there’s the man himself, with Ennio Morricone sitting for a series of interviews that provide open and extensive anecdotes about where his creative energy comes from. It’s these discussions that show just how personal and emotional the art of composing was for Morricone. In his youth, he followed in the footsteps of his father, playing the trumpet to earn money for his family when his father could no longer play. This connection with the trumpet continued throughout his life, with Morricone choosing not to put trumpets in his work out of respect for his father who had lost the ability to play. Upon his father’s passing, the trumpets returned to his majestic scores.

As Morricone embarked on an education to study music, he recognised the emerging talent within himself and pushed for a teacher who would bring the talent out of him; enter Goffredo Petrassi. That relationship swayed and changed over time, with Petrassi critiquing Morricone’s work composing film scores as ‘anti-artistic’, even though Petrassi composed music for films himself.

Ennio: The Maestro reflects on that relationship with careful consideration, suggesting that Petrassi saw Morricone’s relationship with commercial work as an act of prostitution. This mindset created a challenge that Morricone wanted to conquer, setting a personal goal to show that composing music for commercial work, like films, is an artform in itself.

Morricone’s capacity for comprehending the possibilities and heights that cinema can reach is unique. The push and pull relationship with the art of composing is one of the core narrative threads to Ennio: The Maestro and hearing that evolution from the man himself is thoroughly engaging, always educational, and occasionally moving.

As director Silvano Agosti (Quartiere) comments, “Speaking to him about music is to speak with the abyss inside him.”

And yet, within that abyss is a wealth of creativity that almost defies creative belief. His early music showed an inventiveness that was rarely heard in scores of the time, as he managed to replicate the sound of water splashing, with instruments. That curiosity to conjure reality within a score was provoked by his experimental work and was later fruitfully realised with the iconic use of a coyote howl in his work for Sergio Leone. Additionally, a chance encounter with the sound of a creaking ladder helped influence the score to Once Upon a Time in the West in a grand fashion.

While Morricone did manage to get to work with many of the cinematic greats of his time, he carried one great regret which was when he was unable to work on Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The possibilities of what a Morricone score would have been like alongside the ultra-violence of Kubrick mayhem sets one’s mind wandering quickly, just as the taste of his concept for John Huston’s The Bible: In the Beginning… suggests a biblically influenced score which would have been transcendent.

Morricone’s enthusiasm for the creative process is tangible, leading to moments where the maestro gives his very best coyote yowl as he plays The Good, The Bad and The Ugly theme on his piano. It’s moments like these that highlight just how endearing a figure he was. Equally charming is his bond with his wife Maria, who he talks about as being his first audience and sounding board. Ennio would play his themes for his wife, and it would be only the ones that she approved that he would then go on to play for directors.

Outside of these moments, Morricone talks extensively on the relationship he has with filmmakers, from the epistolary relationship he had with Terrence Malick making Days of Heaven, to the fruitful relationship he had over the years with Sergio Leone, where the scores would start when Leone would describe the framing and narrative of his films in great detail. At each point, Morricone talks with great gratitude, as if he recognised completely just how lucky he was.

Giuseppe Tornatore dedicates a sizeable amount of time to one of Morricone’s most iconic scores: The Mission. While Ennio: The Maestro can feel a little dry at times, as talking head after talking head appears on screen, the emotionality of Morricone’s work hits the solar plexus to supreme effect in this sequence. The editing is supreme, with the score, film, and Ennio conducting live orchestras folding in over one another in a manner that reminds viewers of the emotional wallop of Morricone’s score.

Joffé talks about engaging with Morricone to create the score and how initially Ennio was reluctant because the violence on screen was powerful enough that it didn’t warrant a score. Thankfully for Joffé (and audiences), eventually Morricone came back to him with a concept that evolved into the classic soundtrack.

Hearing Morricone talk about losing the Oscar for The Mission to Herbie Hancock (for ‘Round Midnight) is at once amusing, but also a key reminder on how strong and vital the role of originality in a composer’s work meant to Morricone as he critiques Hancock’s win, noting that much of the score for Round Midnight was based on existing music. That push for originality is one of the key underlying messages within Ennio: The Maestro, with Morricone frequently talking about how directors want him to evoke the sound of Bach or Beethoven or even previous Morricone scores, without truly understanding why they would be employing him in the first place.

Ennio: The Maestro is an awe-inspiring and engaging documentary that will definitely satiate lovers of all artforms who wish to understand the creative process and mindset of one of the most iconic creative figures of modern times.