Review by Eve Smith
Ennio Morricone is always framed by the same cartoonish pair of bottle-end glasses. You might not know his face but you most definitely know what Hans Zimmer termed; Morricone’s “instantly recognisable” musical voice. Having produced the scores for more than four hundred films such as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966) and Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003), Morricone is more likely than not the mastermind behind your cinematic music favourites.
Ennio (Giuseppe Tornature, 2021) charts the start of Morricone’s career in World War Two Italy, passing through his conflict with the classical composers at his conservatory and onto the way he revolutionised music-making at the RCA. Beautifully woven-in clips of the films he scored tell the story of the decisions that went into their musical making. The film stresses that Morricone could read the emotion in a scene like no one else and it is most interesting when it tells of the unique approach Morricone took to the songs’ construction, using objects like tin cans and balls dropped in baths to think outside the box of sound.
Quietly beautiful, the opening scene of Ennio warming up seems to set the film up to build a steady momentum, but it ends up stalling into an amble. The film plods into a zealous dedication to the chronology of the songs. The recollections of disputes with directors who eventually came around to seeing Morricone’s brilliance is a structure that quickly tires. The film would have benefited enormously from killing a few of its darlings: cramming in so many celebrity testimonies (with such gems from Clint Eastwood like ‘when I saw the music I was surprised because the music was so unique’) dilute the film’s overall insight.
Those with a deep interest in his work will love hearing the backstories and thought processes that went into producing his iconic scores. But, as a viewer, you start to wish Tornature would have employed some of this same creativity in his approach. The majority of the film is more about the details that went into the making of the songs than about anything else. These descriptions struggle to sustain the lengthy body of the film; there is no real narrative or deep-dive into his psychology or past. As a result, Ennio only scratches the surface of the shame he appears to feel at never having broken out of the world of cinema scoring. As Robert Faenza said of one of Morricone’s scores, ‘the music carries the film’. In the same way, Ennio leans a little too much on its music to pull it through.
Ennio is strongest in its candid moments. Morricone tearfully recalling that when Elio Petri chose a different score for a film that went on to win an Oscar, he told Ennio to ‘slap [him] in the face’ because he made ‘the best music [Petri] could have ever imagined’, and the lingering shots of various talking heads humming out the tunes of various scores are endearing.
At one point, Morricone is described as timid, largely because he contains a profound abyss of musical talent. Morricone hints that it’s not that he can’t speak, rather that his mind is perpetually focussed on music. Maybe that’s what Ennio ends up achieving: a sliver of the depth of Morricone’s musical talent that for the most part, speaks for itself.