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A Fistful of Dynamite - Ennio Morricone

Now, for the first time, Uncle Stylus will have posted seven instrumentals in a row. I was thinking of pursuing more non Western (ie non cowboy) themes in favour of other classic Morricone soundtracks such as "Once Upon a Time In America", "The Battle of Algiers", "Days of Heaven" and "Cinema Paradiso". But I have to plump for my own personal favourite, the soundtrack from another Sergio Leone spaghetti western which again features the wonderful vocal talents of Edda Dell'Orso.

The rest of the world, particularly the French, have always suffered from the fact that the rhythms of almost all modern popular music including rock, folk, country and western, and the blues is based around the English language, either original English folk, or more more often via developments from black American music especially jazz, blues and gospel. These musical styles generally just don't work for other languages, French and Italian in particular. In 1966, Francis Lai's soundtrack music for "Un Homme et une Femme" established a genre of French europop style film music, which was generally pretty anodyne. Morricone however, in "A Fistful of Dynamite" was able to harness the style and turn its usual insipid, airy wistfulness into something with real depth. There aren't many soundtracks that achieve the bittersweet tone of someone looking back over their past as well as this.

The film, originally named "Duck, you Sucker" but, due to low initial audience numbers, re-released by United Artists as "A Fistful of Dynamite", was about two men fighting for General Zapata in the Mexican revolution, one an ex Irish Republican explosives specialist played by James Coburn, the other a small time Mexican bandit and family man played by Rod Steiger. Their names are Sean and Juan respectively, and Juan feels that the fact that they effectively share the same name in different languages is a bond between them. This is a recurring theme in the film's music, as is shown by the singing of the names in this piece. The complete soundtrack for the film is absolutely beautiful and worth listening to in its entirety.

The use of the Sean / Juan audio motif and refrains like "we can fight" in "A Fistful of Dollars" might suggest that Morricone wrote songs for his films, but he seems to have avoided this where he can. Certainly the occasions where words have been added to his tunes, such as by Sarah Brightman to "Gabriel's Oboe" (see yesterday's post) have been abhorrent, and peculiarly, suck the emotional feeling out of the music like blood from the victim of a vampire. The one exception is Morricone's co-composition with Joan Baez for the film Sacco and Vanzetti, which has been adopted worldwide as an anarchist anthem but is more a marching song than something to listen to.

Morricone's music has no need for words: it speaks directly to the soul.

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