SIX OF THE BEST #26 – ENNIO MORRICONE – (R.I.P – 1928-2020)
“If you scroll through all the movies I’ve worked on, you can understand how I was a specialist in westerns, love stories, political movies, action thrillers, horror movies, and so on. So, in other words, I’m no specialist, because I’ve done everything. I’m a specialist in music.”Ennio Morricone
As if 2020 couldn’t get any more dramatic, one of the greatest musical composers and dramatists ever known has passed away. Ennio Morricone, rather incredibly, wrote the scores for over four hundred films and television works. He also managed to write well over one hundred classical pieces. To say Ennio Morricone was a prolific genius is somewhat of an understatement.
Morricone won six BAFTAs, eleven Nastro d’Argento, three Grammy Awards, three Golden Globes, six BAFTAs, ten David di Donatello, two European Film Awards, the Golden Lion Honorary Award and the Polar Music Prize. In 2007, he received the Academy Honorary Award for his outstanding commitment to cinema. Moreover, he was also nominated for a further six Oscars. Lastly, Morricone had to wait until 2016 to receive his only competitive Academy Award for the haunting score to Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2016). For Morricone to receive only one Oscar for musical composition is astounding and proves once again there is no justice in the world.
A meagre blog piece from a London-based hack will never be enough of a tribute to a composer who worked in every cinematic genre and with an incredible array of famous and infamous filmmakers. Notables include: Sergio Leone, Oliver Stone, Warren Beatty, John Carpenter, Quentin Tarantino, Sergio Corbucci, Dario Argento, Duccio Tessari, Sergio Sollima, Henri Verneuil, Bernardo Bertolucci, Mauro Bolognini, Giuliano Montaldo, Roland Joffé, Don Siegel, Mike Nichols, Brian De Palma, Barry Levinson and many more companies including advertisers, singers, recording artists and fashion designers. Morricone even found time to compose the 1978 World Cup theme song.
Thus, as a tribute to one of the greatest cinematic artists I have selected six of Morricone’s best film orchestrations. Although given his brilliance and spectacular output, one could certainly pick many more; even sixty of the best!! Riposa in pace, Ennio, il maestro!
Cast: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Loggia, F. Murry Abraham, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Paul Shenar etc.
Music: Giorgio Moroder
Cinematography: John A. Alonzo
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
“I always tell the truth, even when I lie! so, say good night to the bad guy!” Tony Montana
While Al Pacino is rightly lauded in the critically acclaimed Godfather Trilogy, as quietly menacing Michael Corleone, I think his spectacular performance as Tony Montana in Scarface (1983), is nothing short of cinematic gold. Tony Montana is a monstrous symbol of 1980’s excess and neo-capitalism. A product of social deprivation and cold war division. In this world, greed is not just good, but a driving force behind an evil empire which believes the extreme is only halfway. Tony Montana is small in size but big on gesture, colour and voice, both an anti-hero and villain for the eighties era. Moreover, for me, Tony Montana is the most iconic gangster ever committed to celluloid.
With a combustible screenplay written by Oliver Stone, Scarface (1983), is a cocaine driven and incendiary viewing experience. Stone himself is reported to have been battling cocaine addiction while writing it and this shows in the over-the-top world on screen. Everything is ramped up to eleven, including: the violence, shouting, swearing, shooting, politicking, drug-taking, sex, killing, avarice, money-making and corruption. There isn’t one redeemable character in the whole film. Everyone is corrupt. Actually, Tony’s mother tries her best to stay away from the darkness that follows Tony. His sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) seems pure, but is ultimately drawn into Tony’s incestuous glue, precipitated by her dangerous liaison with Manny (Steven Bauer).
“In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.” – Tony Montana
Directed with operatic and kinetic power by Brian DePalma, I have to say that Scarface (1983) is probably my favourite gangster film of all time. That isn’t to say it’s the best. That is Scorsese’s masterpiece Goodfellas (1990). But I just love this film because DePalma and Stone and Pacino revel in excess, violence and tragedy. It also contains some very dark humour too. Tony Montana is horrific, but also very funny. Georgio Moroder’s brooding synthesised score pocks the Miami streets, clubs, beaches, Bolivian boltholes, and in the final hour, Tony’s fortified mansion. I love the artificial backdrops featuring palm trees and sun because their fakeness symbolises the delusory world of the characters. Indeed, even the back-projection shots used when driving add to the illusion. The characters business foundations are built on white sand, a powder which ultimately blows away in the wind.
DePalma is the best director of a cinematic set-piece since Hitchcock. That isn’t to say he’s the best director ever per se, but rather someone who just creates so many well-conceived and memorable scenes. The infamous chainsaw scene, the killing of Frank (Robert Loggia), Tony’s bitter monologue in the restaurant, and the explosive “say hello to my little friend” ending, are just a few of the jaw-dropping moments in this epic crime drama. DePalma also gets incredible performances from all the cast. Pacino obviously blows the doors off as the tough, paranoiac, angry, greedy and hyperbolic Montana. The then, mostly unknown, Michelle Pfeiffer is equally impressive as the coke-fuelled ice-queen, Elvira, who becomes Tony’s vampiric and soulless wife.
Stone’s scenery-crunching script obviously owes much to the original film version of Scarface (1932), co-written by, among others, W. R. Bennett and Ben Hecht and directed by Howard Hawks. The structure is remarkably similar charting the rise and fall of the “political refugee” from Cuba, Tony Montana. It’s a genius stroke by Stone to transplant the exodus of Cubans to America and at the same time, echo the rise of the gangster during the prohibition era of the original film. But, instead of booze, the drug of choice is cocaine. This war on drugs is bloody and unforgiving. As the money and narcotics mount up, so do the victims. Complicit with the criminals are law enforcement, South American dictators and U.S. Government officials. Stone makes many political barbs, but never preaches at the expense of the narrative. Capitalism, the law and American foreign policy has never been more ruthless than here in Scarface (1983). As the oft-seen slogan says, ‘The World is Yours’, but tragically these characters don’t live long enough to enjoy it.
“Every day above ground is a good day.” – Tony Montana
“YOU’RE HAVING A BATH” – SOME GREAT MOVIE BATHROOM SCENES
I’m unsure why but I thought it may be fun to look at some classic movie bathroom scenes. Perhaps to take my mind off the horrible conflict in Syria which has escalated now? Perhaps just to remind us how great some of the films on this list are? Anyway, the bathroom is a place where we spend the beginning/middle/end of our day cleansing ourselves or relaxing or having some ME time. It also happens to be a good place hide, fight, murder and haunt people in culminating in some classic scenes of horror, comedy and drama.
(NOTE TO PEDANTS: most of these scenes are exclusive to the actual bathroom but there could be slight toilet crossover!)
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**
LES DIABOLIQUES (1955) – HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT
DO NOT WATCH THIS CLIP IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM!! IT GIVES AWAY THE WHOLE END!!
A massive influence on Psycho (1960) this story of murder and betrayal at a boarding school in France is a brilliant and devious thriller. It also has one of the scariest ending of all time!
PSYCHO (1960) – ALFRED HITCHOCK
THAT shower scene! Need I say more!
THE SHINING (1980) – STANLEY KUBRIK
“Here’s Johnny!” Bathrooms and toilets represent danger throughout when Jack encounters a naked nefarious women and the creepy butler earlier in the story. But, after a slow-burning descent into madness Jack Torrance finally cracks with Nicholson on fine maniacal form in this iconic scene from the Kubrik classic!
SCARFACE (1983) – BRIAN DEPALMA
Tony Montana’s rise from “political refugee” to peaky cocaine King is not without its violent troughs. One such scene occurs when he witnesses a colleague ripped apart by a chainsaw. I feel sorry for the cleaner of the apartment block after this wicked sequence.
NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) – WES CRAVEN
You’ve had a hard week and you need to soak your bones and a dead serial killer invades your bath-time dreams. You don’t need that do you! Great nod to Jaws (1975) too in this horrific scene.
FULL METAL JACKET (1987) – STANLEY KUBRIK
The disintegration of Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) at the hands of Sgt. Hartman is a grim series featuring physical and mental torture. The episodes are painful and microcosmic in relation to what military life can do to a human being. This tragic latrine scene is memorable and unexpectedly brutal as it culminates in bloody death.
FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) – ADRIAN LYNE
The film that gave us the phrase “bunny boiler” is a taut, scary thriller of the sex, lies and obsession variety. The fantastic scare-ending though is the one that really sticks in the memory as Glenn Close goes mental following harsh rejection by Michael Douglas’ have-your-cake-and-eat-it-cheat.
THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998) – ETHAN AND JOEL COEN
The Coen Brothers classic stoner detective film has many, many classic scenes but I defy any writer to come up with a comedic concept funnier than a character being threatened in a bath by nihilists with a ferret! Pure comedy gold!
WHAT LIES BENEATH (2000) – ROBERT ZEMECKIS
Zemeckis made this film in between shooting of Castaway (2000) while Tom Hanks lost loads of weight and it’s a really decent suspense thriller. Getting drugged by your husband and unable to move is not the kind of date night you imagine will happen. Indeed, never has the creeping fill of a bath been so terrifying!
TRAINING DAY (2001) – ANTOINE FUQUA
At first watch I thought this scene was a bit of a narrative cheat. However, with a shotgun at Ethan Hawke’s head the suspense is palpable and how he escapes is fitting. Because, this clever and ruthless urban Western is about karma and retribution; with Hoyt’s earlier noble actions saving him from certain death.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) – ZACH SNYDER
Before he set about ruining the Superman franchise Zach Snyder made some decent facsimiles of other artists work such as 300 (2006) and this souped-up George Romero remake. The early scenes are the most dramatic because the bloodthirsty zombies are out the traps like Usain Bolt, as Sarah Polley finds when she’s trapped in her bathroom.
CASINO ROYALE (2006) – MARTIN CAMPBELL
This sequence rebooted Bond for the Millennium perfectly as he takes down a hardy spy in the bathroom while confirming his “00” status in the process. It’s a brutal, clinical and a perfect prologue for a great Bond film. The scene is touchingly counterpointed when Bond calms Vesper Lynd down in the shower in an altogether less violent scene later on.
As a balding man I felt it my duty to raise my concerns about the desperately poor wig-work that has occurred down the years in the movies. The wigs, actors chosen suck because they are so appalling and the filmmakers should have let the actor go natural to avoid discriminatory practices against baldies.
Obviously, for sci-fi, historical, and comedy films wigs are used in context and for humorous purposes so I have generally avoided picking on those but for the examples used there is NO EXCUSE! They are a travesty and deeply hurtful to the bald community. As Larry David says: Baldism is a proper thing.
10. IT LOOKS STUPID!
Okay, I understand certain characters require wigs especially if they wore them in real life like Phil Spector as played recently by Al Pacino but generally Movie Wigs look dumb. It’s fine if it’s in the context of the character such as American Hustle (2013) where Bale’s character was shown to be vain but when an actor has what looks like a ferret stapled to his or her head then I’m thinking less of the movie as I’m too busy laughing at it.
9. IT’S DISCRIMINATION!
I started watching the decent-enough movie TransSiberian (2008) on Netflix and Woody Harrelson’s character is wearing an obvious wig. Harrelson has played some fine bald heroes in his time most notably in the brilliant Zombieland (2009) but he’s let us right down in this movie. His character was a nice guy in it so by giving him a syrup and spectacles are they saying that bald people cannot be pleasant and easy-going. Either cast an actor with hair or don’t. It’s baldist! Come on Woody – you SHOULD know better.
8. WHAT HAPPENED TO TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT?
So I was watching a very disappointing blockbuster film about a massive lizard and I was so disconnected with the lack of characterisation or suspense I got distracted by the usually brilliant Bryan Cranston and his appalling wig! Why not allow let the character have a natural hairstyle of the actor? Are they saying a character with a receding hairline or a bald character is less sympathetic? All that money spent on special effects and incredible looking giant monsters in Godzilla (2014) and his hair-piece was so unconvincing I was embarrassed. Mind you not as unconvincing as the script.
7. KING OF THE WIGS – NICOLAS CAGE
I can’t stand wigs and plastic surgery and Cage seems to have had his fair share of both. It’s vanity gone mad. Unless of course you have a tragic disfigurement or burns I see no reason to alter your body or face in ANY way via artificial means! If you need to lose weight go on a diet don’t use liposuction. If you are bald don’t get a rat transplant on your bonce just deal with it. The worst hair-cut he ever had was arguably in the terrific prison-escape blockbuster Con Air (1997). While the mullet had a certain magnetic quality it, in my opinion, it was laughable and took the piss really.
Anyway, Cage — on his day — is an outstanding actor but he has been in some really sorry old tosh like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011). Here’s a guy who could be a hero to all baldies everywhere with his receding locks so why not allow his characters have Cage’s natural barnet. His lack of locks worked well in Adaptation (2002) as it added to low-status nature of one of the brothers but this was an exception to the rule. 6. BALD PEOPLE DEHUMANIZED AS THE BAD GUY!
Look all the villains over the years who have been bald: Lex Luthor, Voldemort, Ming The Merciless, John Doe (from Se7en), Bane, Gru, Don Logan, Darth Maul, The Baldies from The Wanderers (1979) and many more. Choosing someone who is follicly-challenged is an easy shorthand and detrimental to the humanization of bald people all over the world. We are not villains. We are humans – just because we don’t have hair it doesn’t make us bad people. We have feelings you know.
5. THE BALD UNTRUTH! – JOHN TRAVOLTA
Why use wigs? Why can’t the character be bald – does it make them any less of a human being?! At the very least why collude in the fact the character has real hair. Try and be inventive with the syrups. John Travolta has worn some horrific fringes in his time but at no stage does he send this part of his being up or make it part of the characterisation. In Wild Hogs (2007) — a film about mid-life crises he spends most of it in a bandana rather than embracing his lack of hair. Fair play in the dreadful From Paris With Love (2010) he is bald but he still has a compensatory goatee to take the bald sheen away from the role.
4. UNINTENTIONAL HUMOUR
I’m just going to say one word: Surrogates (2009). This Bruce Willis sci-fi thriller is a dog of a film and the syrups are hilarious. Humans are essentially lock-ins and rarely go out. Instead they live their lives through virtual reality surrogates. It’s not a bad idea and contains a reasonable social comment on technology displacing actual physical and emotional contact. The problem I have with the film is the human version of Willis is bald whereas the computer version has hair. So basically, Willis’ preferred setting is having hair. Why couldn’t it be the other way round!! Plus the haircut is an absolute joke; much like the film as a whole. Bruce Willis is a flag-bearing hero to all bald men and he has worn some dodgy wigs in his time but this is the most monstrous blot on his career.
3. BAD HAIRPIECES DEVALUE THE PRODUCTION
Films are SO expensive to make you would think they could spend a bit more of an effort to make the hairpieces more realistic. Some films — even historical dramas like Lincoln (2013) — have incredible sets, amazing actors and a cast of thousands but when it comes to the syrups the whole thing falls down. I found Lincoln a tough watch anyway as it was SO boring. Has anyone actually watched this film and enjoyed it? Anyway, despite a ponderous story the incredible production is let down by wigs so ridiculous they act as a Brechtian distanciation device and consistently remind us we are watching a movie. I realise that movie God Spielberg may have been going for authenticity but it backfires in Lincoln and the wigs are an embarrassment.
2. IF THEY HAVE HAIR – WHY ARE THEY WEARING A SYRUP?
The worst thing is when the actor actually has hair and they STILL put a hair-piece on them. It’s a travesty really because they could have cast a bald person in the role and given them a leg up in the vanity-led industry that is Hollywood. Or at the very least use the actors real hair and style it accordingly. If the film covers a number of years then for additional realism they should shoot the film in order as the hair grows. The biggest culprit for this is Oliver Stone. He has made some magnificent films but his career is littered with crimes against bald people. Just have a gander at these monstrosities:
1. HAIL THE BALD HEROES!
We shall fight them in the barbers, the make-up chairs and film & sets. Hail the heroes carrying the fight against the vain, unreal and plastic harbingers of doom! Stand proud the hairless and bald! Fight the good fight to the last strand!