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Giu' La Testa - Ennio Morricone

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Genre: Easy Listening / Artist: Ennio Morricone / Import / Audio CD released 2006-10-23 at Cinevox

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      29.09.2007 16:52
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      Duck, you sucker! Duck, you sucker! It's a popular American saying!

      By the early-1970’s Sergio Leone was fed up with westerns. He still wrote screenplays for the genre, but as far as he was concerned, he had little desire to get involved with any more of them after Once Upon a Time in the West was made in 1968. Therefore it was with considerable reluctance that he accepted to direct the 1971 film Giù la Testa after the main stars Rod Steiger and James Coburn refused to play in the film unless Leone himself was directing, very much the result of his previous film’s success. Giù la Testa, however, is not a pure spaghetti western, but rather a Zapata western that was a genre popular during the late-1960’s and early-1970’s that took their premises from the glorification of revolutions where the simple peasants would rise against the oppression of the governing powers. Leone himself was the total opposite. He saw very little to be celebrated in revolutions and considered that only tragedy eventually results from them. To that end, Giù la Testa is very much a criticism on the vain idealism that intellectuals were beaming in favor of their heroes and quite blatantly wanted to show the darker side of revolutionary actions and how it actually effects the normal people once removed from the hero worshipping front. It is perhaps because of this darker heart that the film didn’t prove to be a huge success, which was not helped by bad marketing that resulted in the studio wanting to show it off as some sort of an action adventure film. Also, the difficulty in trying to pick a name proved a detriment as Leone’s original insistence of calling it Duck, You Sucker purported for a more humorous film and the later studio sanctioned name of A Fistful of Dynamite were both somewhat like misnomers. The French title of Once Upon a Time... The Revolution probably hit the mark the best.

      As always, it was Ennio Morricone that Leone once again turned to when it came to the music. Having now worked on all of Leone’s important films together, the two had forged a close working relationship that had yielded some of the most historical film scores ever written and the playfully quirky experimental early style of Morricone’s had already become a basic template of many other Italian composers such as Nico Fidenco and Franco Micalizzi writing music for spaghetti westerns. In all essence, Giù la Testa is very much a traditional Morricone score for Leone, yet at the same time it is also completely different. What I find quite interesting in Morricone’s musical practices for these types of films, as opposed to many of the other Italian composers doing the same, is how despite he employed very much the exact same kinds of ensembles in each film, he still managed to always create something that sounded totally different than what he had done previously. Giù la Testa is an interesting mixture of comedy and a more downbeat attitude that sounds like Morricone, but takes considerable strides in not sounding anything like say The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or Once Upon a Time in the West. The main stay of the score revolves around the music for James Coburn’s IRA-refugee John (or Sean) whose themes flit between the comic and the nostalgic. His introduction in the cue “Scherzi a Parte” comes in the form of a blerping synthesizer that recites his dark revolution theme over some bugsy percussion work and then moving to a more lighthearted recitation with strumming guitar and woods for his more laidback attitude. It is these two types that most readily signify the man himself, later more traditionally taking the performance of either heavily dragging strings or whistling over which the voices of the I Cantori Moderni recite his name of “Sean, Sean, Sean” (which may or may not be the name he is supposed to have in the film) as a signature sound.

      The second part of the music for John/Sean is the nostalgically sweeping and lush melody that is so green it makes me jealous of Ireland. It always appears during John’s fond flashbacks to his youth where he and his best friend would go around unadulterated green pastures, while sharing a girl they probably both love and it is to this dreamy state that the soaring wordless soprano of Edda dell’Orso and the I Cantori Moderni’s “Sean, Sean, Sean’s” create an almost dreamlike state of laid back Mediterraneanism in somewhat of a similar style as Nino Rota’s scores for Fellini. On the flipside of the John music comes Rod Steiger’s bandito Juan, who gets alongside his “family” a comic march called “Marcia Degli Accattoni” (March of the Beggars) and which doesn’t get as much playtime as Coburn’s music, but does receive a very notable setpiece performance when he tries to rob the bank of Mesa Verde, lasting a whole five minutes, with a few token strains of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik thrown in for comic measure, for a scene that turns a bankrobbery on its head in a most amusing style. The cue also contains it’s own quirky recitations of Juan’s name in the form of burping croaks, from where the cue continues to build to a fantastic climax complete with church organ. As a subtheme to the preceding, the bank itself is represented a couple of times with a Holy Grail motif with organ and mockingly la-la-la-la’ing voices (as heard in “Marcia Deggli Accattoni #2”). The “Mesa Verde” music constitutes roughly the other half of the score outside of the character themes and is a mixture of the nostalgic accoustic guitar driven music and the morosely downbeat feel that makes the latter half of the album somewhat depressing. To complete the musical signatures, the Nazi-like military commander Gunter Ruiz and his posse get a dissonant and harsh theme for the “Rivoluzione Contro” cues that don’t make for particularly enjoyable listening, but evoke horror quite well.

      When looked on as a whole, Giù la Testa is perhaps not quite on the level of Morricone’s previous Leone scores, or at least not in as consistenly good level. When the score sparkles, it really does sparkle, but at the same time it does feature a lot of music that is either practically unlistenable (namely the dissonant Nazi music) or so considerably downbeat that it leaves you feeling somewhat empty inside, as if drained from energy. Therefore I myself don’t really listen to this score that much outside of some of the more notable highlights and while the score indeed is very good and quite light on the fingers, it is pretty hard to sit down and gulp down on one listening session. Cues like the lengthy “Invenzione per John” and “Dopo l’Esplosione” are particularly good for simply zoneing out from actually listening to the music. Album wise the music has been released several times following it’s 1972 LP premiere, with the earliest CD version having come out in 1987 and containing about 46 minutes of music. On the whole I’d say the original album presents about all the music you will probably need in a well sequenced collection, but if you are in for more completism than that, it would be better to get your hands on the two disc 35th Anniversary Edition coming out from Cinevox. The first disc is the same as the original album, while the second presents alternate and film versions of other cues. I have to say that the second disc (with a running time of 56 minutes) is pretty superfluous and constitues mostly slight variations on the music on the original album. The most interesting additions here I’d consider the “Marcia Deggli Accattoni #2” with its Holy Grail theme not on the original, a more poppy sounding “Mesa Verde #2” and the “Messico e Irlanda #2” that presents the Mesa Verde music with a trumpet. Still, regardless of my criticism, this is a very fine Morricone effort and works perfectly in conjunction with the film while providing some of Morricone’s best quirky writing. So, if you’re expecting something similar to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, you might be disappointed, but Giù la Testa still makes for a well crafted score and an interesting Morricone effort.

      Amazon.uk price: Original album £12.49; 35th Anniversary Edition £13.49


      Expanded 2006 album

      Disc 1:
      1. Giù la Testa (4:16)
      2. Amore (1:41)
      3. Mesa Verde (1:40)
      4. Marcia Degli Accattoni (4:54)
      5. I Figli Morti (6:05)
      6. Addio Messico (0:53)
      7. Scherzi a Parte (2:24)
      8. Messico e Irlanda (4:57)
      9. Invenzione per John (9:05)
      10. Rivoluzione Contro (6:45)
      11. Dopo l’Esplosione (3:22)

      Disc 2:
      1. Mesa Verde (#2) (2:43)
      2. Giù la Testa (#2) (3:05)
      3. Marcia Degli Accattoni (#2) (2:36)
      4. Mesa Verde (#3) (1:42)
      5. Rivoluzione Contro (#2) (5:34)
      6. Giù la Testa (#3) (3:18)
      7. Dopo l’Esplosione (#2) (3:02)
      8. Scherzi a Parte (#2) (2:45)
      9. Messico e Irlanda (#2) (4:30)
      10. Invenzione per John (#2) (7:51)
      11. Giù la Testa (#4) (1:42)
      12. Rivoluzione Contro (#3) (4:50)
      13. Giù la Testa (#5) (2:59)
      14. Dopo l’Esplosione (#3) (4:19)
      15. Giù la Testa (#6) (4:41)

      Music Composed, Orchestrated and Conducted by Ennio Morricone
      Chorus: I Cantori Moderni di Alessandroni
      Vocal Soloist: Edda dell’Orso
      Whistle & Guitar: Alessandro Alessandroni
      1971 / Cinevox, 1987/2000 (CD MDF 312)
      Cinevox, 2006 (CD MDF 612)

      © berlioz, 2007

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