When you picture a western stand-off on the big screen, it’s very likely that you can’t help but hear the opening notes of the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The sound of a flute and ocarina resemble the howl of a coyote before you hear that famous three-note melody from a harmonica. It’s one of the most recognizable themes in cinematic history, and sadly, the man who created it has died.
Ennio Morricone, the famed Italian composer known for spaghetti westerns such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the crime thriller The Untouchables, the sci-fi horror classic The Thing, and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, has passed away at 91.
The Hollywood Reporter has the news on the passing of Ennio Morricone, which came as a result of complications following a fall that broke his femur last week.
In his career spanning all the way back to 1960, Ennio Morricone composed scores for over 500 films, many of them Italian, including seven that he composed for the spaghetti Westerns of director Sergio Leone. This includes not only the famous and revered score for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in 1966, but rest of The Man with No Name Trilogy that preceded it: A Fistful of Dollars in 1964 and For a Few Dollars More in 1965. Leone has previously said of Morricone’s work:
“The music is indispensable, because my films could practically be silent movies, the dialogue counts for relatively little, and so the music underlines actions and feelings more than the dialogue. I’ve had him write the music before shooting, really as a part of the screenplay itself.”
But Morricone felt that he and Leone both did their best work in 1984, saying, “Gradually over time, he as a director and me as a composer, we improved and reached our best, in my opinion, in Once Upon a Time in America.” But that was just a fraction of his career.
Ennio Morricone worked with some of the best and most celebrated directors in the business, creating scores for many movies that are now considered influential classics. Morricone’s work can be heard in the likes of Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966), Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 (1976), John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) Roland Joffé’s The Mission (1986), William Friedkin’s Rampage (1987), Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987), Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1988) Pedro Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989), Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (1990), Barry Levinson’s Bugsy (1991) and Disclosure (1994), Mike Nichols’ Wolf (1994), and Warren Beatty’s Bulworth (1998).
Though Morricone was nominated for five Academy Awards, he wouldn’t receive on until he was given an honorary Oscar in 2007 for his “magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music.” However, nearly a decade later, he would actually win an Oscar for composing the original score for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight in 2016, his last major Hollywood score. It was a dream of Tarantino’s to work with Morricone, whose music was used by the director in Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds, and the Kill Bill movies. Tarantino didn’t even give Morricone any guidelines, choosing to let the composer known as “The Maestro” do what he does best.
The music of Ennio Morricone has brought movies to life for decades, and the legacy of his work will be celebrated for generations to come, influencing many composers and filmmakers to come. Any movie featuring his music was instantly the better for it, and he will be missed dearly.
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