SPINEMA – Issue 1: Mondo Makes Vinyl Love To Morricone’s THE BIG GUNDOWN

This LP was released by MONDO on 8/5/15.

To anyone who knows the names and works of any film composers beyond John Williams (with due respect), the name Ennio Morricone resonates and erupts with as much thunderous passion as the man’s extraordinary music. Perhaps the Hardest Working Man In Score-business, the Italian Maestro has completed original compositions for over 500 movies (read that again). Though his seemingly endless musical creations encapsulate every genre, including the scores of The Untouchables, The Thing, Bulworth, and Days Of Heaven, his name will always be synonymous with the sweeping grandeur of the Spaghetti Western. It is in that idiom where he created some of the most recognizable and influential masterpieces in cinema history, and it is from that staggering body of work that Mondo has beautifully paid Morricone tribute with one of their newest vinyl releases.

Director Sergio Sollima’s The Big Gundown was practically thrown away when it hit the American market in 1968. Gunned-down, itself, by 21 minutes for its initial distribution, the film played as the B presentation in a double feature with another western. Over the years, as great film is wont to do, it crept into the hearts of critics and cinephiles, and has since been preserved on Blu-ray by Grindhouse Releasing (A partner on this Mondo LP release), featuring two cuts of the film, including Sollima’s uncut, intensely political opus. Lee Van Cleef (The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly) plays Jonathan Corbett, a bounty hunter who may not be able to bring himself to retire. A fabulously wealthy Texas railroad tycoon coaxes him into hunting down a knife-wielding Mexican peasant, Cuchillo Sanchez (the vibrant and charming Thomas Milian), who is accused of the rape and murder of a twelve-year-old girl. As the scrappy Cuchillo finds more and more creative means of escaping Crobett’s grasp, the true nature of this conflict is slowly revealed, and the true measure of the storytelling is found in the soundtrack of Morricone.

The composer was reluctant to take the job that would produce this tremendous work. He worried he would be pigeonholed as a Western musician. Pigeonholed or not, we can all be thankful he jumped on board, because what he created for Sollima’s excellent film is nothing short of breathtaking. The opening theme, a song featuring lyrics by Audrey Nohra, and vocals performed (or rather, belted) by Maria Christina Brancucci perfectly sets the story’s enormous stage. The lady can roar, but she is dynamic. Brancucci’s high notes come sailing over the rhythmic pulsing of the symphony in the chorus, and the sound is so overwhelming, you can hardly believe she is able to rein in the fire that is the larger-than-life Corbett, and sing in a smaller, sneaking mood, evocative of Cuchillo. The song is at war with itself, and that same conflict, internally and externally, is echoed throughout the film.

A delightful array of instrumentation is utilized in the score, showcasing sounds tailor-made for comedy, adventure, honor, grief, and dread. Morricone didn’t necessarily use specific motifs for each character, but certain themes are played by specific instruments in key scenes. For example, when Corbett faces off against a German aristocrat gunfighter with a major death wish, we hear a short dialogue between a piano, referencing Beethoven’s most recognizable melody, Fur Elise, and the agile plucking of a classical Western guitar. At the finale, when it seems Cuchillo might finally have his day, a familiar heroic anthem is clumsily belched into our ears by a trombone, as though it were as exhausted as the Mexican outlaw after his relentless chase. This is the kind of artistic brilliance Morricone wrote into every score, and the themes and moods of this soundtrack create such a diverse aural bouquet, that listening to the whole of the album in one sitting makes for a wonderful experience.

Thanks to Mondo, The Big Gundown is presented with the finest respect to both cinephiles and audiophiles. The gatefold sleeve features epic artwork by Geof Darrow on a par with the kind of homage-paying packaging one might expect from The Criterion Collection. The two-disc set presents 25 tracks of gorgeous hi-fidelity sound on 180 gram, 45rpm, (for peak quality). This release represents the maximum of vinyl audio, and the tone is so rich, you might find yourself re-tuning your stereo by it (I had to… Brancucci’s voice was too big for mine).

The real kicker here, what makes this re-issue so unique, is the exclusive interview with Ennio Morricone, conducted by Frederico Caddeo expressly for Mondo. Printed on a nice, big insert in the disc two sleeve, their conversation is truly fascinating and candid.

This is a must-own. Do yourself a kindness, and own it.

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MORE CINE-MUSIC ON VINYL

John Carpenter’s LOST THEMES

A fine resource.

MONDO

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Ryan Lewellen has loved movies ever since he was programmed that way by his creators from a universe parallel to, but reachable from, your own. He knows he shouldn’t be telling you that, but in 3 years, 2 months, 29 days, 16 hours, 30 minutes, and 55 second’s time, your awareness of our existence shan’t factor, for it is your fate and fate is inescapable, human. Enjoy your final moments reading his movie blog.