Once Upon a Time in the West - Ennio Morricone
I am guilty of brainwashing my family. From an early age, they were all led to the trough of Morricone water, and they drank their fill. Our brother and sister cats, now ancient and arthritic, are named Sergio and Leone, and both have the hard, squinting stare of Clint Eastwood. Neither answer to their given monikers; maybe they are indeed "the cats with no name".
Way back in the summer of 2009, when we were on a camping holiday in Collioure on the French side of the France / Spain border, the family was suffering from one of those mid-break dips in morale. Everyone was grumpy, indolent and snapping at one another. Come evening, my partner Anna was convinced the remedy was for us all to go out on an adventure, to see the dancing and music that she had heard took place in the nearby town of Banyuls-sur-Mer, a few kilometres down the coast towards Spain. Everyone had to be rounded up and practically forced into the car and we set off in an irritated silence while Anna tried to lift the mood with bright chit chat. By the time we descended into the main bay of Banyuls, crawling along the pedestrian strewn seafront road, the sandy "plage" on our left, the brightly lit Aladdin's trove of outdoor restaurants on our right, a riot of squabbling had broken out - over the lack of space in the car, the wish to get back to the site, the fact that someone was wearing someone else's dress and so on. Momentarily, through the warm night and the open car windows came the sound of a cello, holding a single note; the petty arguing lapsed into silence and the single note of a harpsichord held for a split second came through the night, followed by five pairs of notes that spelt a the familiar tune to all the family. We looked to our left and saw five tall, bearded men in long, light brown duster coats and black cowboy hats striding towards us across a white marble dancefloor and, without a word, like rats at Hamelin, all four daughters and Anna got out of the car and followed the music (and the hunky men in coats) and I found myself deserted, alone at the wheel with nothing more to do but find a parking space for the car.
As I have probably mentioned on these pages before, one of the things the French do very well is musical tack. They understand that there's a thin line between chic and tack, and where the English are not prepared to take the risk, the French know that tack, well done, is fun and, if you're prepared to let yourself go, it can be moving too. A small orchestra and a superb soprano could have very successfully performed an evening of Ennio Morricone's Western film music, but they had to go one further with dancing outlaws dressed in the style of "Once Upon the Time in the West", plus other dancers representing other scores. It was wonderful, but maybe with such great music you can't go far wrong.
Most regard the soundtrack to Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in the West" as Morricone's crowning masterpiece. Leone
filmed every scene with music in it, to accompaniment of the score played on set on a reel-to-reel tape player. Each of the four main characters has their own theme, and their own instrumental sound, and the gunfighters walk in time to the music as they approach the showdowns. The main theme of the movie is Jill the heroine's theme. She is the hopeful future, the humanity that will survive in the face of a corrupted future just as she has survived the corrupted past. Leone once described "Once Upon a Time in the West" as a ballet because the actors all move in time to the music.
The first link (above) shows how the action is choreographed to the music: the sadness as Jill can't see her husband, the way she paces back and forth then walks to the tempo, then her enquiry at the rail station office as to whether there's a message from him when we know he has been killed along with his son, and then as to where she can hire someone to take her to her ranch.Then comes the wonderful moment where, as Jill walks out of the other door of the station office, the camera crane rises as the music lifts and we see over the roof Jill bravely walking into the new west, a bustling, half-built outback metropolis.
Jill's theme is the most famous tune from the film, and the main theme music as per the second link.This features the haunting soprano of Edda Dell'Orso and for all we knew, they'd shipped he to Banyuls-sur-Mer that evening. Whoever she was, she was pretty darn good.