2023 Milwaukee Film Festival: Day Eleven “Ennio”

Some documentaries don’t need an angle, the material is so compelling that getting out of the way of the subject is enough. ENNIO, a film about composer Ennio Morricone, most famous for his film scores, is proof that just presenting a story in a straightforward way is sometimes the best approach.

Here’s how Milwaukee Film described the film.

Giuseppe Tornatore’s epic tribute to the vast career of Ennio Morricone, the composer of earworm western film scores from THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY to THE HATEFUL EIGHT. This documentary is a can’t-miss for cinephiles and music buffs alike, delving into the creative process of a master across five decades with insightful interviews from Quentin Tarantino, Dario Argento, John Williams, Clint Eastwood, and the maestro himself.

That’s a simple, straightforward description of the film. The one thing missing is how much insight the film gives to how Morricone constructed his scores It goes without saying that he was one of the greats. What’s great is how much insight is given by the late Morricone and others. In particular, Morricone’s experimentation is highlighted particularly his inspiration from John Cage. Morricone never played it safe, incorporating choral elements and non traditional instruments of film scores like guitars and harmonicas. Morricone was never just doing riffs on Wagner, but was intertwining his scores with non-instrument elements like bullwhips, choral elements, whistling,  and highlighting the creaking of a windmill, train, sign, etc. as musical instruments in their own right.

It’s easy to love a Morricone score as he delivered some of the greatest in film history. And he did it by being bold and original. Film scores were original and daring pieces of work in his hands. Often more daring than the films that they were part of. And often counterpoints to the images on screen adding depth, atmosphere, and unpredictability. Especially in the hands of his greatest collaborator Sergio Leone, he created aural counterparts to the images that proved to be more than the sum of their parts. He and Leone created legendary experiences of image and sound. They literally changed an entire genre and Morricone elevated almost everything he ever worked on. I knew Morricone was great going into the film, but the film is a clear reminder of how great he was.  Sure, it’s an easy win showing some of the greatest sequences that Morricone helped create, but there’s a reason that he’s a legend and even if it’s an easy win to show these great sequences crafted by others, the clear thread of Morricone is present throughout. It’s unmistakable how he asserted his own identity in film and how he left so much great music and showed that you didn’t have to play it safe. And more than ever on how the Academy passing him over at the Oscars felt like a clear failure to acknowledge greatness. Quentin Tarantino may be guilty of hyperbole, but is there is one film composer that’s it’s impossible to be hyperbolic about, the documentary makes it clear it is Morricone. He was a composer’s composer and had fans high and low.

There were many misty eyes in the audience at the screening. That’s what happens when you see greatness up close and unvarnished.

The 2023 Milwaukee Film Festival is over, but Ennio is sure to show on screens all over the USA in the next year. If you love his music, be sure to catch this. It’s a true love letter to the maestro.