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CINEMA PARADISO – Ennio Morricone

November 26, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

As a young small town Sicilian boy, director Giuseppe Tornatore fell in love with the cinema where he would spend hours every day insatiably viewing films. With the advent of television and the VCR, many believed that the days of the town cinema were numbered. This film abounds with nostalgia as Tornatore explores his movie going memories and how they affected his life. Drawing from his own life experiences, he crafted a screenplay, which secured the financial backing of the French production company Les Films Ariane. A fine cast was assembled, which included; Philippe Noiret as Alfredo, Salvatore Cascio as Salvatore Di Vita (child), Marco Leonardo as Salvatore Di Vita (adolescent), Jacques Perrin as Salvatore Di Vita (adult), Agnese Nano as Elena Mendola (young), Leopoldo Trieste as Father Adelfio, Antonella Attili as Maria (young), Pupella Maggio as Maria (adult) and Isa Danieli as Ana. Salvatore Di Vita, aka Toto, is a precocious kid who falls in love with movies shown at his town’s theater, Cinema Paradiso. It comes to pass that he worms his way into the heart of projectionist Alfredo, who befriends him and takes him on as his apprentice. Over time Salvatore masters the projector and often runs it himself. So great is his love of movies that he buys a movie camera and begins making his own home movies. Tragedy strikes one night when the Cinema Paradiso catches fire and burns down, with Salvatore saving Alfredo’s life, but not before he is badly burned and blinded.

After the Cinema Paradiso is rebuilt, Salvatore, now in high school runs the projector and falls in love with Elena a beautiful girl from a wealthy family. She loves him, but her father will not allow her to marry down, moving his family out of town to ensure this. Alfredo counsels Salvatore to seek his fortunes in Rome, as he will never realize his dreams in Giancaldo. He leaves his small town and prospers; achieving success in the film industry, but never recovers from losing Elena. Years later he sadly returns home to attend Alfredo’s funeral. He sees the wisdom of Alfredo’s counsel to seek his fortunes elsewhere as the town has remained small and unchanged. Alfredo’s widow gives him a parting gift, a movie reel created by Alfredo, which he treasures. When he plays it back in Rome he is brought to tears as it contains all the cut-out scenes of people kissing, which the town priest had demanded Alfredo remove to ensure public decency. The film was a commercial success, and received universal critical acclaim, securing a single Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film, which it won. Today it is considered a classic film, achieving a ranking of 27 in Empire Magazine’s “The 100 Best Films of World Cinema” in 2010.

Ennio Morricone was renown in the European film industry and he was Tornatore’s first choice. Morricone understood that the film was in many ways, a biopic of Tornatore’s life, which would be best served by a small ensemble so as to provide intimacy. Solo wind instruments, piano, celeste, strings, and alto saxophone would carry the bulk of the score, which would speak to the film’s three animating emotions; nostalgia, love, and melancholia. The score would be supported by three primary themes; the wistful Main Theme abounds with nostalgia and offers a romantic ten-note melody born by string quartet, piano, and alto saxophone, which cause us to succumb to tears. For me, Morricone perfectly captures the film’s emotional core, a man’s bittersweet reminiscence. Toto’s Theme serves as his identity. Born by celeste, flute, and strings, it emotes as a valzer giocoso, which perfectly captures his youthful spirit. It is playful, carried by a variety of solo woodwinds or alto saxophone. The film’s most notable theme is the Love Theme, composed by Morricone’s youngest son Andrea. It speaks to the love of Salvatore and Elena, and is emoted by an alto saxophone, piano gentile and strings romantico. Rounding out the score would be the requisite source music of the time as well as the actual film scores of the film’s showing at the Cinema Paradiso. The review properly sequences the cues in film sequence.

The film opens with “Cinema Paradiso”, a sublime score highlight where Morricone graces us with one of the finest film openings in his canon. We look out from Salvatore’s home in Giancaldo Sicily past a drape fluttering in the breeze to behold a vast shimmering sea. As the opening credits roll, Morricone sets the tone of the film and captures its emotional core with a wondrous full rendering of his Main Theme. The melody is wistful and flows over us so full of nostalgia. Bravo. We flow seamlessly into “Maturity” where Salvatore’s mother and sister try to telephone him in Rome. We are informed of her sadness, as he has not been home to visit for thirty years. Morricone bathes us with melancholia with solo guitar, flute and strings doloroso. Only the first 48 seconds of the cue were used in the film. The remaining part of the cue reveals tension in the guitar, which never resolves as Salvatore is informed by his girl friend of his mother’s advisory that Alfredo has died. The news of Alfredo’s death saddens Salvatore in “First Youth” where we see him flash back to his youth. He is an altar boy, earning a reprimand from Father Adelfio as he struggles to stay awake during mass. Morricone supports our introduction to young Salvatore with a tender rendering of Toto’s Theme born by celeste, flute, and strings. His theme emotes as a valzer giocoso, which perfectly captures his irrepressible youthful spirit.

“Childhood And Manhood” offers a score highlight. Toto visits Alfredo in the projection room as he splices out all the kissing scenes demanded by Father Adelfio. They begin to forge a bond and as Toto departs, he steals some of the excised film scenes. As he views the scenes at home by candlelight, his mother looks on with bemusement. When he asks why papa has not come home from the war, his mother reassures him that he will some day. Morricone supports the scenes with a beautiful extended rendering of Toto’s Theme, which graces us with a transfer of the melodic line from solo violin, to flute delicato, to alto saxophone, and lastly to kindred woodwinds and piano. “While Thinking About Her Again” reveals Toto exiting the theater only to discover his mother waiting for him. When he tells her he spent the milk money to buy a ticket she begins slapping him. Alfredo comes to his rescue and offers her ‘money he found under the seats’. Morricone supports the scene with sad melody kindred to the Main Theme, which never resolves, thus informing us that Maria understands Toto’s love for the cinema. In “Toto And Alfredo” Toto feigns hurting his foot as he walks home from a funeral with Father Adelfio. Alfredo’s hoist him up on his bike and takes him home. A tender rendering of Toto’s Theme emoted by solo violin and flute carries their progress. We can see that Toto and Alfredo are bonding.

An extended rendering of Toto’s Theme, not included on the album, supports a montage of scenes where Alfredo completes Toto’s training in the projection room. In a subsequent scene where Maria receives the tragic news that her husband has been declared dead, she walks home devastated and weeping with Toto. Morricone supports her anguish with a reprise of the Main Theme, which carries their progress. This cue is also not found on the album. “Cinema On Fire” offers the score’s most dramatic cue. Fire breaks out in the projection room and Alfredo is unable to contain it, as an exploding reel of film blinds him. Dire strings rise in their register and launch a horrific ostinato with trumpet blasts as the conflagration consumes the projection room. At 1:24 the ostinato resets and carries Toto upwards in his rescue of Alfredo. He pulls him down the stairs to safety and cries for help. At 2:15 a diminuendo upon a grim string sustain and drums of doom supports an exhausted Toto’s cries for help. In “After The Destruction” we are graced with another fine string born exposition of the Main Theme. Father Adelfio wonders how the town will fare with no entertainment, as they are too poor to rebuild it. Morricone supports the sadness of the moment with a plaintive rendering of the Main Theme. Yet fortune comes in the guise of a man who won the lottery, who agrees to reopen the Cinema Paradiso. The Main Theme continues unabated as we shift scenes to the blessing of the new theater. Toto is then entrusted with the job of projectionist with his mother’s approval and Father Adelfio’s blessing.

“Projection For Two” offers another score highlight. Fate reunites Toto and Alfredo when his wife brings him up to the projection room. As they warmly embrace, Morricone supports the tender moment with great lyricism using a passage by sumptuous strings full of sentimentality. At 1:23, as Alfredo caresses Toto’s face and counsels him to seek greater fortune elsewhere, we flash forward to Alfredo continuing the conversation with Toto, now Salvatore, a young man. Toto’s Theme carries the transition, but the theme, like Toto has matured and is now rendered less child-like and instead more forthrightly by horns nobile. “From American Sex Appeal to The First Fellini” reveals a montage of various movies Salvatore is projecting to the audience below. Times have changed and the audience can now see people kissing on screen. We open with a romantic rendering of the Main Theme, which was intended to support a romance with a woman lying naked on a bed. Instead Tornatore excised Morricone’s theme and infused a sultry blues piece, which spoke to the visual arousal of the young men viewing the film. At 1:27 Morricone’s Main Theme returns with a jazzy, swing like sensibility, which supports the gangster film being viewed. We close at 1:57 with a segue into a prancing rendering of the Main Theme by pizzicato strings.

“Love Theme” offers a sublime score highlight where Andrea Morricone’s timeless love theme is introduced. Salvatore has informed Elena that each night for a month he will stand outside her house in hope that she will open her bedroom shutters as a sign of her love. We see him waiting night after night to no avail. When December 31st ends he walks home forlorn as the town celebrates the New Year. Morricone supports his departure and heartache with stirring rendering of the Love Theme by solo flute doloroso. At 0:39 we change scenes to the projection room where we see Salvatore tearing up the calendar where her recorded his futile attempts for love. The flute has ascended in its register and carries his inconsolable heartache. As Elena enters, their eyes meet in love, and they embrace as the Love Theme blossoms on sumptuous strings romantico. As the reel ends and the crowd screams, our lovers ignore the world, lost in the rapture of a kiss. The closing reprise of their theme by solo violin is exquisite, and breathtaking. The confluence of film scene and music here was sublime. “For Elena” reveals that Elena has moved to Palermo to go to university. Salvatore misses her deeply and longs for her return. On a night where he is watching a movie in town outdoors, he lays back to look at the stars as it begins to rain. From out of nowhere comes Elena who kisses him passionately. He is overjoyed and the moment is supported beautifully by a stirring rendering of the Love Theme by string quartet.

After a stint in the military, Salvatore has lost touch with Elena and never again finds her, which wounds him deeply, a wound from which he never heals. In “Visit To The Cinema” Salvatore has returned home for Alfredo’s Funeral. Afterwards he visits the shuttered Cinema Paradiso, which is scheduled to be torn down in a few days. As he walks within the theater, Morricone bathes us in nostalgia with wonderful extended rendering of the Main Theme where piano and strings bring a quiver and a tear. We close the film with a score highlight. In “Love Theme For Nata” Salvatore plays the reel given to him by Alfredo. To his amazement it contains all the kissing scenes ordered excised by Father Adelfio. As he watches with bittersweet nostalgia, Morricone graces us with an exquisite extended rendering of the Main Theme, whose melody is transferred among the orchestral for a heart-warming performance. The End Credits featured Toto’s Theme and the cue is not included on the album.

“Four Interludes” offers a curious cue in that four scene interludes in the film are joined in a single cue. Interlude one opens with ambient woodwind and string phrases. Interlude two begins at 0:29 and emotes as a fragment of the Main Theme. Interlude three begins at 0:54 and features soothing strings, and Interlude four begins at 1:38 and offers short string phrases. Given their brevity, I did not choose to rewatch the film in its entirety to place them. For “Runaway, Search And Return” I was not able to discern a scene in the film for which this was intended, as such it must be attached to a scene which was dialed out of the film. We open energetically with a piano ostinato, which sows suspense as it slowly builds to crescendo, yet it never culminates, instead it transfers its energy at 1:29 to an impassioned rendering of the Main Theme, which closes on a solo violin. Lastly, “Cinema Paradiso” offers a bonus cue, which showcases the beauty of the Main Theme by string orchestra.

I would like to thank Enrico de Melis and DRG records for the new release of Ennio Morricone’s masterpiece, Cinema Paradiso. The audio quality is excellent and provides a wonderful listening experience. Morricone and his son Andrea excelled in providing Tornatore’s vision with the heart, bittersweet nostalgia and love it demanded. In scene after scene the confluence of music and film narrative was exemplary. Morricone understood that this tale explored a wounded man who had lost the love of his life and never recovered, moving unfulfilled from one girl to another, News that his beloved mentor Alfredo had died triggered a journey back to his youth in Giancaldo. In a stroke of genius, Morricone conceived a melody, which captured the film’s emotional core; indeed his Main Theme stands as one of the finest of his canon. For Salvatore, Toto’s Theme was brilliantly conceived and full captured his playful, defiant and irrepressible spirit. While Andrea’s contribution of the timeless Love Theme gave the film the heart and romance the story demanded. Folks, Morricone again demonstrate the power of music in enhancing and elevating a film. This score is one of the finest in his canon, and a gem of the Bronze Age, one that I highly recommend as essential for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a Youtube link to a nine-minute suite, which features the scores primary themes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLe9gTKQ4LU

Buy the Cinema Paradiso soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Cinema Paradiso (2:59)
  • Maturity (2:18)
  • While Thinking About Her Again (1:18)
  • Childhood And Manhood (2:14)
  • Cinema On Fire (2:46)
  • Love Theme (2:46)
  • After The Destruction (2:02)
  • First Youth (2:15)
  • Love Theme For Nata (4:05)
  • Visit To The Cinema (2:22)
  • Four Interludes (1:56)
  • Runaway, Search And Return (2:06)
  • Projection For Two (2:07)
  • From American Sex Appeal To The First Fellini (3:26)
  • Toto And Alfredo (1:20)
  • For Elena (1:52)
  • Cinema Paradiso – String Version (2:20)

Running Time: 40 minutes 12 seconds

DRG Records 99501 (1988/2001)

Music composed and conducted by Ennio Morricone. Performed by Orchestra Unione Musicisti de Roma. Orchestrations by Ennio Morricone. Additional music by Andrea Morricone. Featured musical soloists Franco Tamponi, Baldo Maestri, Marianne Eckstein, Francesco Romano and Enrico Pierannunzi. Score produced by Ennio Morricone. Album produced by Enrico de Melis.

  1. November 30, 2018 at 6:58 pm

    Nice review of a great score for a great film. I have the 23-track release of the score and that one’s really nice too (particularly the extended “Cinema on Fire”). Some confusion over any music you couldn’t place (namely “Runway, Search and Return”) is explained by the two cuts of the film. There’s the American edit of the movie released in 1989 that’s about two hours in length, and then there’s the original Italian premiere version from 1988 released by Tornatore that goes on for about two hours fifty minutes.

    In this version, the entire plot of why Elena and Salvatore never got together and how they are unexpectedly reunited again when Salvatore returns for the funeral, engaging in a very short (extra-marital) affair before realising it’s too late for a relationship now, all of which (including the actress of older Elena) were entirely deleted from the American version – including any Morricone score that accompanied those scenes. So there’s that little bit explained.

  1. June 27, 2022 at 8:30 am

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