Saturday, January 25, 2014

Riz Ortolani (1926-2014)

Perhaps you recognize this familiar theme:

Nicolas Windig Refn's Drive reintroduced the music of Riz Ortolani to American audiences. Ortolani, who died this week, was one of that mighty generation of Italian film composers of whom Ennio Morricone is the best known. Ortolani actually made his name in America before Morricone did, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Song for "More," the theme from Mondo Cane, the breakthrough film of his major collaborators, Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi. This clip from the film provides a sample of its many instrumental variations on the theme.

"Oh My Love," the song from the Drive soundtrack, comes from Jacopetti & Prosperi's most infamous picture, Goodbye Uncle Tom. Those who think themselves hardened by sitting through Twelve Years a Slave may yet flinch at this time-bending exploitation essay on slavery and its consquences. Ortolani's greatest film score is typical of his mondo work, providing a romantic, sentimental counterpoint to horror on screen. Here's "Oh My Love" in its original context.

As with "More," Ortolani came up with variations on the theme that go far from the rapturous idealism of the Katyna Ranieri vocal. A second theme gets quite a workout, starting here:

And climaxing here with new notes of funky menace as the directors imagine modern blacks (circa 1971) reliving Nat Turner's rebellion:

Perhaps the greatest example of Ortolani's characteristic effect is his opening music for Ruggiero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust. Like Goodbye Uncle Tom, Cannibal Holocaust has a reputation as one of cinema's most horrifying experiences, and like Uncle Tom, it includes some of Ortolani's most beautiful music.

Ortolani wasn't Morricone's equal in quantity or quality, but he was one of the top men of that cohort that made almost every Italian film of a certain era sound incredible. At his very best, he was quite nearly equal to anyone's very best, and his are some of the most memorable moments in movie music.

No comments: