Life is not like the movies. Although we sometimes wish it were, there are many things about it that just don’t add up in the same way a good film does. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a critique against reality and how films are better. This is an inconvenient comparison. Instead, this text is about a specific aspect of cinema that enriches human experience: music.
Recently, I haven’t been able to take off my mind the way music can elevate our souls and take us to places deep within our memories. After all, it knows no limits other than what we can imagine. As an art form, it has the power to transform and amplify our moods. Without music, cinema is just eye candy.
There’s a reason why these thoughts on music have been on my mind lately. As you might have read, Composer Ennio Morricone passed away recently, leaving after him a great legacy of film scores. He gave the world some of the most beautiful music to ever accompany the seventh art. This is my small homage to him.
Music and Film
The inclusion of music in films was as revolutionary as the projection of visuals itself. This is something that most of us probably take for granted, and it’s no wonder. The hyper abundance of narrative elements thrown at us in contemporary cinema makes it hard to process what’s going on.
We grew up in a world where technology has allowed movies to reproduce sound without any major difficulty. The one thing our generation has seen is how sound in films has evolved in terms of quality. We’ve been taught to focus on the detail, but not on what is actually going on. We see the pieces, but we are unable to put the puzzle together.
As important as sound quality is, it misses the point as to the role sound plays in a film. More importantly, it misses the big picture of sound, specifically in the form of music, as part of the movie itself. Music is probably the most important narrative element, but it often gets buried under a pile of cinematic rubbish.
For some movies, the really good ones, music is as important as the cast or the director. It is difficult to think about Star Wars without its epic intro, just as it is impossible to think about Requiem for a Dream without death invoking violins popping up in your head. Music is not an add-on in a movie. It is an essential part of the resulting work of art. That is something that Ennio Morricone understood very well.
The Legacy of a Genius
How can one describe the work of someone like Ennio Morricone? Anyone who’s composed the music for more than 500 productions during his lifetime isn’t an ordinary person. A normal human being can’t just compose so much music out of nowhere, and yet it seems that was what Morricone did.
Among his most famous works, one can find the scores of classics like The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, The Untouchables, The Hateful Eight, and the beautiful Cinema Paradiso. As if these weren’t enough, he was recognized with the Princess of Asturias award, think of the Nobel prize for the arts. Morricone was a true artist.
If I were to choose one of his scores, Cinema Paradiso would definitely be the one. This is the story of a kid from a poor Italian town that takes place a couple of years after World War II. Throughout the laughter, movies, tragedies, love and hardships of life, the kid grew up to be an important man in the film industry. One day, an unexpected call, as if it were a message from heaven, tells him to go back to his town. He is confronted with the decision of facing a past that he had left behind 30 years ago.
Tender and sad, Morricone’s orchestration for this particular movie has both a touch of romantic childishness and a grandiose view on the seventh art. He is able to imprint into this movie the innocence of being a child and delighting at the cinema in a way that just clicks with the human soul. The discovery of the world as something new and beautiful, the spectacle of cinema, family, the beauty of a kiss, all of the wonders of life packed into a tear-popping crescendo of violins. Death is just the silence between songs. Everything is woven through a melody.
The other day, as I watched the movie to write this post, I couldn’t help but cry as my ears reacted to Morricone’s beautiful music of Cinema Paradiso. As adults, we tend to forget what beauty is. It reminded me that life is not like the movies, but it certainly imitates it.