He wanted to be a doctor, but his father wanted him to be a trumpet player.  He was looked down upon for his working class roots at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory, where he received his diploma for composition studying under his mentor Goffredo Petrassi.  Working as an arranger for RCA-Italy, he became the man who put the memorable sizzle into Italian pop music.  He would go on to completely redefine what was possible in movie scores, flooring everyone, including his former professor, with his work for Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns.  His name was “Ennio.”

Laura's Review: A

In 2 hours and 38 minutes, "Cinema Paradiso" writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore tells us everything we need to know to understand the genius of his friend and collaborator Ennio Morricone.  This is one of the great documentaries about movies, about music and about artistic creation in general, a loving tribute to an innate musical genius who composed over 500 movie scores.  That the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences didn’t award him a competitive Oscar until Quentin Tarantino’s “Hateful Eight” four years before his death is one of the Academy’s worst injustices (he was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2006).  (This documentary won both the David Di Donatell Best Documentary and Best Editing awards and was also nominated for Best Film and Best Director.)

Tornatore goes the usual route of using archival footage, stills, talking heads and copious song performance and movie clips, his most personal piece of filming capturing Morricone’s gentle workout routine as he lies on his office’s oriental carpet.  American audiences may not recognize most of the Italian singers who laud him, but clips of their performances highlight the magical touch he applied to their songs, using rolling cans, typewriters and splashing water like an Italian George Martin or Phil Spector.  Morricone analyzes his ‘Se Telefonando,’ where he used three notes in 4/4 tempo, stressing a different one each time, and we can recognize how unusual it must have seemed in 1966. 

They should, however, know countless others who appear here. like Clint Eastwood, John Williams, Oliver Stone, Wong Kar-Wai, Quincy Jones, Bruce Springsteen and Joan Baez, the latter of whom collaborated on his “Sacco and Vanzetti” score.  Movie buffs will recognize the great Italian filmmakers who worked with Morricone like Bernardo Bertolucci, Gillo Pontecorvo, Lina Wertmüller, Marco Bellocchio, the Taviani brothers, Liliana Cavani, Dario Argento and this documentary’s director.  British filmmaker Roland Joffé talks with awe about Morricone’s score for “The Mission,” whose complexity of disparate themes coming together seems to astonish even the composer himself, who made his disappointment clear when it lost the Oscar to “Round Midnight,” a film full of previously published music.

Morricone is a great subject, lively and expressive as he hums, caws and ‘air conducts’ sections of his music, informing those of us who didn’t know before that that signature call in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is a coyote howl.  The film also breaks down Morricone’s musical inventiveness and contributions to the art, the self-effacing musician not gaining confidence until he began to master the counterpoint, a signature of his work.  It wasn’t until Petrassi praised his score for “A Few Dollars More” that he realized its worth, he and Leone both having decided they didn’t like it.  He would end up replacing his mentor for Dino DeLaurentis on “The Bible.”

He took risks with new directors, working on Belocchio’s “Fists in the Pockets,” and went the discordant route for Argento’s early giallos, the director’s father complaining that they all sounded the same because they lacked melody.  Tornatore features clips of the same scene with different music, emphasizing their enormous influence on films like “Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion,” whose director initially favored an earlier Morricone score.  We’ll see filmmaker after filmmaker disagree with Morricone’s choices but give him the last word only to realize he was right all along.

Ennio Morricone’s beloved wife of over sixty years, Maria, was his most trusted critic and if it took the public longer to recognize his genius, he was warmly embraced late in life as he conducted world symphonies in a ’60 Years of Music’ tour.  If only he could have seen the labor of love made by his friend…”Ennio” is simply brilliant.

Robin's Review: A

Ennio Morricone composed music for over 60 years and, in that time, scored more than 500 movies. Writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore – whose “Cinema Paradiso (1988)” is just one of those films the Maestro composed – takes us on a journey through the life and times of “Ennio.”

One thing became obvious as I watched “Ennio.” It is a love letter by the director to his friend and collaborator who created music for movies for as long as some people live. If you do not know Morricone’s body of work, or think you know it (like me) then you are in for a history lesson and a journey through cinema and its music.

Plan on spending the two hours and 36 minutes of “Ennio” and seeing interviews with other composers, directors, screenwriters, musicians, songwriters, collaborators and critics who have know the man since his first film score for “The Fascist (1961).” The list is both extensive and impressive, so much so that I suggest you look it up – there far too many to even attempt to list here.

As everyone who knows anything about movies, one of the most famous film/music collaborations ever is Steven Spielberg and John Williams. Tying with that famous duo is the collaboration between Ennio and Sergio Leone, beginning with “A Fistful of Dollars (1964),” its sequel, “For a Few Dollars More (1965)” and, of course “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).”

That collaboration is just the tip of the iceberg, though, as the Maestro himself talks about all of the filmmakers he has crossed paths with over his long career. But, you also get a lesson in film music composition and a film school analysis by Ennio of the structure of his music, its evolution and his methods of making his familiar scores.

I am a firm believer that a movie should be around 90 minutes long and an epic should clock in at around the two-hour mark. “Ennio” is the exception, at over two and a half hours, and, at the end, I wanted more. Those are words I seldom say.

Music Box Films released “Ennio” at NY’s Film Forum on 2/9/24.  Click here for theaters and play dates.  (“Ennio” will begin a run at Brookline, MA’s Coolidge Corner theater on 3/29/24 to kick off their ‘What’s the Score?’ retrospective series.)