This documentary represents a painstakingly detailed, fantastically entertaining, and profoundly exhausting deep dive into the career of the hyper-prolific Italian composer Ennio Morricone, known best perhaps for his orchestral scores for Sergio Leone (including the so-called Dollars Trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West), Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 – and a whole bunch of American films, ranging from the great (Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables) to the abominable (Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight).
It’s not so much the running time of 156 minutes that will tire you out as the incredible sonic, visual and emotional overload generated by the work itself; perhaps this is ideally seen first in a cinema for maximum impact and then again in small, digestible chunks at home. It’s one huge cinematic mosaic that tessellates a massive interview with the man himself (fortuitously filmed just before he died in 2020) with acres of archival footage and snippets from the movies he wrote soundtracks for.
On top of that, there’s hundreds of interview clips from his innumerable collaborators, friends and admirers – even if some of them seem to be there just to show off how good the producers were at snagging big names. (Bruce Springsteen, for example, is a bit too gushy and hyperbolic.) However, any weak spots are more than compensated for by the overall level of discourse that gives paramount place to the music above all else, with intelligent, pithy observations from Morricone’s classical composer contemporaries such as Boris Porena, as well as other film music maestros including Hans Zimmer and Mychael Danna.
As you would expect, there are lots of lovely personal anecdotes from assorted collaborators, including Joan Baez and singers little known outside of Italy who remember Morricone’s innovative arrangements for RCA pop songs before he moved into film. English director Roland Joffé is particularly entertaining, showing off his Italian while discussing Morricone’s mighty score for Joffé’s The Mission, which we see performed by a massive orchestra with Morricone conducting. Given the documentary’s director is Giuseppe Tornatore, it’s no surprise a small chunk is given over to his collaborations with Morricone such as Cinema Paradiso, but on the whole Tornatore makes it ultimately about his main subject. Kudos is also due to editor Massimo Quaglia’s astonishingly fluid work splicing it all together.