There are just a select few who inarguably belong in the pantheon of great film composers; Ennio Morricone is one.
However, just as the film for which he has received his sixth Oscar nomination, Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” is often misleadingly put in the small box of being a “western,” the casual moviegoer might limit Morricone to his classic spaghetti-western collaborations with Sergio Leone.
“Many people mistakenly describe ‘The Hateful Eight’ as a western movie,” says the maestro through a translator. “In my opinion, it’s not a western movie, but an adventure movie set in a particular moment in American history that is after the war of secession. And [more than 30 years] after my last western score, I didn’t want to repeat myself, to resemble what I had done for Sergio Leone or the other western movies.
“In my opinion, if you were to label this movie, it would be an adventure, a drama, with some irony inside.”
Indeed, the “Hateful” score belongs much more to a twisty chamber mystery, as Tarantino has described his film, than an ultra-macho cowboy shootout saga. It combines harpsichord-like tiptoeing sounds and gravitas-imbuing strings with a repeating woodwinds theme straight out of a whodunit.
Morricone has more than 500 scoring credits in a career spanning more than 60 years. And at 87, he’s not appreciably slowing down. Counting shorts and documentaries, he has 20 credits in the last five years. He has scored many major American and French films and composed more than 100 classical works, selling more than 70 million records globally. His exquisite work for Roland Joffé's “The Mission” (1986) is No. 23 among AFI’s 25 Greatest Film Scores of All Time. And that doesn’t include the countless times his iconic themes have been parodied, referred to, or appropriated outright by filmmakers, including Tarantino.
“Those were examples of which I really appreciated the way Tarantino used the music,” he says, adding, “Tarantino made something very special for this movie because the 70-millimeter version of the film starts with a musical overture; just a fixed image on the screen and you just have music. I really appreciated it.
“And also, the use of the music entitled ‘Snow’ is used very effectively in all the snow-covered sequences.”
At the time he was writing for the film, however, Morricone was scoring blind — he worked only from the page.
“I didn’t compose them knowing the sequences they were intended for; I just gave Mr. Tarantino the music and then Mr. Tarantino was very, very good at actually selecting the pieces of music and putting them in the sequences and editing them in a very brilliant way, as he had done in the past with the other pieces of music I had composed for other films.”
Morricone relished the freedom the auteur gave him, allowing him to compose freely, without “any special indication; he didn’t ask me for anything precise. Because of this freedom, I took the time to think carefully about what I wanted to do.”
“Awards in general are important for composers; they work silently, unseen, they are in the background,” he says. “But the music can be actually appreciated and duly recognized only if the director makes good use of the music.
“Sometimes you can compose great music, but in the editing and cutting of the film, it is not well placed so the audience cannot listen to it, so the music is worthless.”