This was one I asked for. It’s true, to quote a recent album title, “everybody loves Ennio Morricone,” but this was special. A 1970 Clint Eastwood-Shirley MacLaine western directed by Don Siegel, with a remarkable (and, let’s face it, classic) Morricone score that contains both reverential choral material and wacky mule noises — well, who could resist the challenge. I interviewed the maestro several times over the years but never got to ask him specifically about this score. Still, the complete score for the first time, plus the original Kapp LP, makes for compelling listening. We even did a video interview for it.
One of the things I most enjoy is sharing my love for certain scores and specific movies. On Saturday I visited the Autry Museum of the American West — one of L.A.’s cultural gems — to participate as guest curator in their “What Is a Western?” film series. I introduced one of my favorite 1970s films and scores, Sergio Leone’s Duck, You Sucker (also known as A Fistful of Dynamite, or Once Upon a Time… The Revolution) with its glorious music by Ennio Morricone. It was a chance to extol the virtues of this underrated film (with Rod Steiger and James Coburn, teaming up during the Mexican Revolution), tell something of its curious backstory (Leone never intended to direct it, and battled Peter Bogdanovich for three months over it) and advise the audience on what to listen for. Autry procured that rarity, a complete 156-minute 35mm print, and I highly recommend the theater, a comfortable 200-seat room. I returned Oct. 29 to introduce The Big Country and its remarkable, groundbreaking score by Jerome Moross.
The winners are in, and they’re Ennio Morricone (for his Hateful Eight score) and Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes (for their Spectre song, “Writing’s on the Wall”). It’s only the second time in Oscar history that a 007 song has won Oscar gold (the last, of course, was “Skyfall,” from the previous Bond film) and their victory must be deemed a surprise. I chronicle the entire weekend’s music events here — including the musical ups and downs of the broadcast, Saturday’s SCL Oscar music reception, and Friday’s Hollywood Walk of Fame honors. Anticipating Morricone’s Oscar win, I wrote a second story for Variety about the Italian maestro that enabled me to use more of our February interview.
With Italian maestro Ennio Morricone arriving this week in Los Angeles, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce decided to give him a star on its Walk of Fame just two days before the Oscar ceremony — where he might just walk away with the award for his music for The Hateful Eight. Variety asked me to profile the 87-year-old legend, which meant calling him in Rome for some thoughts on his career, and reaching out to directors including Barry Levinson (Bugsy), Roland Joffe (The Mission) and Warren Beatty (Bulworth). Here is the main story; there is also (at least in print!) a sidebar listing “10 essential Ennio Morricone soundtracks” that allowed me to cite some of my favorites among his nearly 500 scores for film and television.
My last Variety story during the 2015 Oscar campaign examines each of the five nominees for Best Original Score: music by John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Thomas Newman, Carter Burwell and Johann Johannsson. Here is the link to the score story; also here is a second story, about this year’s Best Song category, that draws on my original interviews with nominees Lady Gaga and Diane Warren (“Til It Happens to You”), Sam Smith (“Writing’s on the Wall”) and J. Ralph (“Manta Ray”).
For Variety‘s second installment in our series on potential Oscar nominees in the music categories, I interviewed five composers, seven songwriters, a music supervisor and a director. Our main story features John Williams, in his first interview offering details of his new Star Wars score, as well as Hateful Eight music supervisor Mary Ramos talking about Ennio Morricone’s music; and The 33 director Patricia Riggen discussing the late James Horner’s contributions to her film. I also wrote four of the six composer profiles (on Thomas Newman, Michael Giacchino, Carter Burwell and Brian Tyler) and half of the song story (including interviews with Spectre singer-songwriter Sam Smith and The Hunting Ground songwriters Diane Warren and Lady Gaga). And there’s still more to come!
I have had the pleasure of interviewing the great Italian maestro on a number of occasions (always with a translator, of course; he speaks no English). The first time was back in March 1994 for Cineaste magazine. Perhaps the most memorable was in January 2001, when I did an on-stage Q&A with the maestro after a screening of Malena for the Society of Composers & Lyricists.
There was a 2007 interview for Classical KUSC, which I later used in my December 2008 Morricone radio special. His last visit to America, when he accepted a long-overdue honorary Oscar, was the occasion for several pieces: A historical-perspective piece for Variety; a Variety review of his concerts at Radio City Music Hall and the United Nations; a fun list of Oscar-music missteps keyed to the Morricone loss for The Mission; and a much more detailed review of the New York City concerts in February 2007.