Sunday, February 25, 2007

Academy Awards

When many of you were in college and were expanding your musical horizons, The League sort of made a half-hearted effort to do the same. Our passing interest in David Bowie increased seven-fold, We went through a period where we bought every Talking Heads, David Byrne and related album (and slept happily beneath a subway poster of the least-exciting looking band in rock). And, when JAL took me to the Paramount to see "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" around March of 1995, I fell for the film scores of Ennio Morricone.

I was familiar with soundtrack to "The Mission", and a few other Morricone works, but first "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" and then "Once Upon a Time in The West" and continuing with "Once Upon a Time in America"... Morricone stood out to me (as a wide-eyed film student) as the perfect blending of film and music, rivalling John Williams for pure, iconic themes that told the story as much or more than, oftentimes, the dialogue itself.

The score to "Once Upon a Time in America", along with the one-sheet movie poster, are probably actually better than the final product of the film. The score manages to accomplish what many scores fail to do (but what I thought Ottman managed to accomplish quite well with "Superman Returns"), and that is speak the inner monologues for the characters.

As long-time Leaguers will know, I gave up on the Oscars several years ago when I realized most of the pictures nominated either never made it to my neighborhood, or could not possibly live up to the hype once it began. In addition, why on earth would I watch a bunch of over-paid actors run through a list of agents and producers to get their name on the air and thereby force the actor in question to beg for more work even as they're supposedly receiving their profession's highest accolade?

Hollywood is a sick, sick town.

So it was this evening that Jamie lured me down from the Fortress of Nerditude to watch the "honorary" or "lifetime achievement" award to Ennio Morricone, as he must not have ever won an award before and it was making the Academy look kind of dumb. Especially if Morricone died with no awards and having re-written the way in which film scores could work.

It was awkward enough that Eastwood didn't wear his glasses and in front of an audience of 1 billion people couldn't read the teleprompter, but...

well, (a) nobody in the audience really applauded for any of Morricone's scores as they played, except for "Good, Bad and the Ugly". And (b) as if to add insult to injury, someone tapped Celine Dion to lay words over the score to "Deborah's Theme" from "Once Upon a Time in America". Apparently not Dion, the lyricist, the Academy, any directors or producers had actually seen "Once Upon a Time in America" and knew that "Deborah's Theme" was not a song about finding one another in the moonlight. I don't want to get too much into what I THINK it's about, but it is not about filling up four extra minutes in your show at the Bellagio.

Also, Celine forgot the words at the mid-point of the song and just let out a "whooooo!" to cover it up. Well played, Celine. Well played.

This was followed by the appearance that the Academy was unaware that Morricone does not speak English. They invited him to give a speech, and a few awkward moments went by as Eastwood stood there and was supposed to translate, I guess. or Eastwood forgot his glasses and couldn't read the teleprompter again. We may never know.

The good part was that when Morricone got up to give his speech (in Italian, which Paltrow was pretending to understand), Quincy Jones and his daughter (Karen, from "The Office") totally stole Morricone's seat. No, he didn't steal it. He moved down to fill in for the cameras, but I like to think he and his daughter were treating it like a baseball game and thinking "if that guy leaves, we're totally snagging those seats!"

Also, for some reason, a Mussolini look-alike was seated behind Morricone's wife. I guess the Morricone's are old school Italians..?

I suppose I'm mostly irritated to know that the Soccer-Moms of America will now be driving around in their Ford Excursions listening to "the new Celine", unaware that Dion has butchered a once perfectly reputable bit of movie scoring.

Only at the Oscars would people choose to honor a man by taking one of his greatest works, render it unrecognizable, and hand it over to help a hokey Vegas-act sell some CD's at Wal-Mart while diluting any sense of the man's genius from the song. After all, Celine's producer's soft-rock sensibility know that lowest common denomintaor sound that really sells.

Congrats, Ennio. Welcome to LA.


Anonymous said...

I have plenty of comments about the Academy Awards last night, but I'll not get into it. Overall, I thought the show was pretty good. I liked that they played film clips (albeit short ones) of even the nominated short and live action films.

As for Morricone... believe it or not, instead of Celene Dion, I thought it a far worse tragedy that Clint Eastwood fogot his specs and looked and sounded like he was fumbling everything he said about Morricone. A pity.

The League said...

The Eastwood thing, while certainly awful, was not pre-meditated. It was awkward, and it made a live broadcast embarassing for everyone. But, while I can forgive an old guy his vanity, I can't forgive the Academy for thinking the right way to honor someone is to dilute their work. Why not honor John Ford by showing clips of his movies with Maureen O'Hara digitally removed and inserted with Lindsay Lohan in her place so today's girls would find Ford's movies relevant? Or insert Three-Six Mafia rapping over Sophie's Choice to get the kids into the movie? Or, if you really want that Dion crowd, put Katie Couric into reaction shots in "Once Upon a Time in America". Make her part of the gang. Why not?

Celine Dion? For @#$%'s sake. You couldn't get further from the spirit of Morricone's work than getting that trained poodle to yodel over his stuff.

That said, I know Celine Dion is supposed to be, like, crazy nice, and meant no harm. So whose decision was this?

Sigmund Bloom said...

Their heart was in the right place. It's when your 4 year old gives you the ceramic ashtray/flowerpot/hat. Just pat them on the head and say thank you. At least the awkward gesture was directed at someone of exceptional quality.

Anonymous said...

Your comparison arrangements (O'Hara replaced by Lohan) don't really hold up the same...

It wasn't that C.Dion was trying to replace any past work of Morricone's, it's just that a voice and lyrics were added to a melody. It's been done for decades with music.

I'm not comparing C.Dion to Duke Ellington now, but there are many Duke Ellington songs that had lyrics added to them much later. Does that dilute them?

Incidentally, C.Dion was probably not the Academy's choice only --- why was Quincy Jones in the balcony? He's one of the producers of the new album "We All Love Ennio Morricone" featuring Celine Dion singing "I Knew I Loved You" as track #1.

(we received it as a promo CD at KPAC).

Other artists on the disc include Metallica, Yo-Yo Ma, Roger Waters, and Bruce Springsteen, whose rendition of "Once Upon a Time in the West" is even more awful than Celine Dion's tune, because he replaces the soprano part in the main theme with a badly arranged electric guitar part.

The League said...

I don't think throwing a laundry list of bad ideas at me makes me feel any better. It's one thing for a CD to exist, but quite another to butcher one of his songs during a tribute to the man. Believe me when I say that unless Metallica is simply playing one of his tunes and leaving hetfield's vocals off the track, my eyes are going to roll just as much.

My point regarding Celine is that most people DON'T know Morricone aside from the "G,B & U" theme. And maybe hearing "The Mission" in Yoga class. How does it celebrate his work to have a soft-rock version played with Celine Dion singing over the top? Quincy Jones deserves his rep, but i can't keep him from producing saccharine Celine Dion tunes. I can only not pay for them and state that it's a bad idea.

And I would argue that, depending on the performer, how the music was arranged and if they altered the intention of the music... yes, absolutely those performers diluted the original work of Duke Ellington. Especially if the song then became associated with the vocalist rather than Ellington in the zeitgeist (as we all know from teenybopper covers of once decent songs).

I sincerely doubt 5% of Americans knew the name Morricone before last night. And I guarantee you, a goodly chunk of them now think he wrote a Celine Dion tune.

I do own the "Yo-Yo Ma Plays Morricone" CD from about three years ago. It's okay, but I wasn't nuts about it. And that was fairly straight interpretations.

It's film music, and in Morricone's case, it's as important to the film making process as the editing, the lighting and dialogue. He's one of the the rare exceptions that's been able to rise above creating incidental riffs and give music fans and movie fans something to appreciate. Adding new words adds new meaning that dilutes not just the music, but the narrative of the film. And, in the case of "Once Upon a Time in America" and Celine, has the potential to taint the film for those who enjoy it, while most likely NOT drawing in a new audience for the film (I once could not sell a copy of the soundtrack to a woman who claimed to be a HUGE Zamphir fan as she thought the movie was icky. She just came in to the store to see if anyone knew what "The gangster movie was with Zamphir music". It was her good fortune I was on duty that day.)

To me, this is no different than celebrating, say, a Picasso work and when handing him an award, you show a college student's work inspired by Picasso instead of his own work. What's the point?

Anonymous said...

I wasn't trying to suggest that the other track on this new CD make C.Dion's tune any less awful (or better), but I gotta say the Metallica arrangement of "The Ecstasy of Gold" doesn't float my boat, either.

Whether adding lyrics to a tune dilutes the original work should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

It may be your opinion that C.Dion rendition of a tune is the same as an amateur's, but I do admit she is a professional, although not to my taste.

For the general audience that this program ("The Academy Awards") was playing to, it was an okay choice. The majority of the viewing audience aren't movie or music nerds like us, and as I grow older, I've come to accept that. I guess I've just mellowed out.

I also realize that people use music in very different ways, completely disregarding the context in which it first belonged.

The League said...

Well said.

The League said...

And, no, I do not consider Dion an amateur, but I do feel that there's certainly a vast gulf in skill sets and levels between a composer like Morricone and someone with a good set of pipes like Dion.

Anonymous said...

Now THAT I agree on!!!


Laura said...

Instead of commenting on anything you have discussed I will again urge you to go see Little Children, because I worked on it damn it, and it seems to be one of the nominated films (or films with nominations) that nobody saw.

Anonymous said...

Maxwell! You worked on Little Children? What did you do on the film?

I loved it, and interviewed Jackie Earle Haley in late January for air on KSTX, since he lives in San Antonio. Here is a link to the full interview:

The League said...

I am sorry to say that I never saw Little Children listed as playing here. Of course, Maxwell, as I understand it, there's no monkeys, robots or people with flaming skull heads, so it may have come and gone already and nobody saw fit to tell me.

I will look and see if it is still here for weekend viewing.

Laura said...

Nathan, I was a casting assistant on it (so not my biggest project personally, but one of the best projects I've ever worked on). Jennifer, Kate, and Patrick were attached already, but I helped find the children and May and well, all the other roles. I spent a few days at skate parks looking for the skateboarders. I met Jackie Earle briefly when he came up to New York to read with Kate and sat behind him at the cast and crew screening. I remember the day his tape came in and watching it for the first time. He's a genuinely nice guy and I'm happy for all his success.

Laura said...

Also, Little Children will start playing at Dobie March 2. :)

Anonymous said...

One last Morricone tidbit:

Today I was viewing some of the "press room video" from the Oscar night and Ennio Morricone said that although he did not choose Celine Dion to sing that song, he "was very moved" by her performance.

Whaddya know...