• David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (22/4/2022)

(Reviews of Ennio; Barry & Joan; and The Wall of Shadows)


Even if we presume that cinema-going is a thing again, the UK's various streaming platforms are still doing sterling work. In addition to subscription sites like Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI, Netflix and the BFI Player, the likes of iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation are all ready to keep you entertained.


Whether you opt for the big-screen experience or some quality home time, enjoy and stays safe.


ENNIO.


According to the Internet Movie Database, Italian composer Ennio Morricone amassed 528 credits in a 60-year career that only ended with his death, at the age of 91, in 2020. Thus, even with 156 minutes at his disposal, director Giuseppe Tornatore would have been hard-pressed to do justice to all of the achievements of a maestro who also arranged dozens of pop songs and wrote several classical pieces for the concert hall. However, he manages to pack a good deal into his documentary tribute, Ennio, which is built around one of the last interviews that cinema's most distinctive composer ever gave.


Born in Rome in 1928, Ennio Morricone was the son of trumpeter Mario Morricone, who played with various light orchestras in the early days of radio. Having learned to read music as a young boy and having mastered several instruments, Morricone entered the Saint Cecilia Conservatory at the age of 12. Giving up his childhood hopes of becoming a doctor, he transferred to the composition course and fell under the sway of Goffredo Petrassi, who would remain his mentor for six decades.


He recalls the shame of having to play with club bands for food during the war. But, having been composing since the age of six, Morricone found plentiful commissions in postwar Rome. He also formed an avant-garde collective, having been inspired by the performances of John Cage. But his fortunes changed when he was hired by the state broadcaster, RAI, to provide American-style arrangements for some of its shows. Now married to Maria Travia and with children to feed, Morricone supplemented this uncredited work by playing with a jazz band. But he was frustrated by RAI's refusal to allow him to compose his own pieces and he quit and became an arranger for the RCA Victor record label.


Initially working with the likes of Mario Lanza, Morricone was afforded the freedom to write his own songs, as well as devising flourishes to give tunes a hook, such as using non-instrument like typewriters. As singer Edoardo Vianello recalls over snippets from such 1960s hits as `Abbronzatissima and `Guarda come dondolo', Morricone was in demand with stars like Rita Pavone, Jimmy Fontana, Renato Rascel, Mina and Paul Anka.


Had he been making the mini-series that he really needs, Tornatore would certainly have lingered here, as the melodic innovation and bold instrumentation deserves to be celebrated. Morricone himself looks back on this phase with affection, even though he knew that tinkering with ditties wouldn't impress his classmates and professors at the conservatory. He suspected the same would be true of his film scores, which he had started ghost-writing under names like Dan Savio and Leo Nichols in the mid-1950s. But, even though he began composing for the screen without much enthusiasm, Morricone soon realised he had found his métier.


In 1960, he worked uncredited on Franco Rossi's Death of a Friend before seeing his name on the screen for the first time for Luciano Salce's The Fascist (1961). His early penchant was for comedies, but he became internationally known when he was asked by Sergio Leone (who turned out to have been a forgotten classmate) to score his Spaghetti Western, A Fistful of Dollars (1964), starring Clint Eastwood. He avers that everyone on the planet loves Morricone music and it's hard to argue on hearing the combination of gunshots, whistles, whip cracks, trumpets, jew's harps and electric guitar riffs that took the genre in entirely new musical direction.


Leone and Morricone would reunite on For a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Once Upon a Time in America (1984). Yet, while this partnership has acquired a cult standing, Morricone would also create Spaghetti scores for Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Sollima, as he composed for 20 films in 1968 alone. However, Leone ungallantly scuppered his chance to work on Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971) by fibbing that his friend wasn't free.


In addition to being ridiculously prolific (in spite of the fact he believed that melody was dead), he was also a master of all genres, as he demonstrated with his contributions to Lina Wertmüller's I basilischi (1963), Marco Bellocchio's Fists in the Pocket (1965), Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers (1966), Dario Argento's The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's Allonsanfàn (1974) and Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 (1976).


Morricone particularly reminisces about the anthemic `Abolição' from Pontecorvo's Queimada! (1969), which became a choral favourite when he took to the podium to play sellout shows, and `Here's to You', which he wrote for Joan Baez on the soundtrack of Giuliano Montaldo's Sacco e Vanzetti (1971). By now, even Hollywood started to pay attention and Morricone earned his first Oscar nomination for and Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978). A second followed for Roland Joffé's The Mission and Morricone remained bitter than his epic score lost out to Herbie Hancock's rejigging of some jazz standards for Bertrand Tavernier's Round Midnight (both 1986).


Morricone's third nomination came for Brian De Palma's The Untouchables (1987), while he memorably collaborated with Tornatore on Cinema Paradiso (1988) and The Legend of 1900 (1998). He moved into television, but continued to write for cinema in his piano-less Roman studio. In 2007, he received an Honorary Academy Award. But he finally won a competitive statuette for Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight (2015).


His delight was evident, but it probably meant more to hear peers like Boris Porena who had once dismissed him acknowledge his genius. He would also have enjoyed the awed praise of fellow composers Quincy Jones, Hans Zimmer, John Williams and Mychael Danna, but may have been less enamoured of the gushings of fanboy rockers Bruce Springsteen and Pat Metheny or the archly cool observations of Wong Kar-wai.


A self-effacing, but determinedly stubborn man, Morricone had a phenomenal memory and he reels off anecdotes and la-la motifs with little prompting. A few stories are recycled from David M. Thompson's 40-minute BBC tribute, Ennio Morricone (1995), but Tornatore (who made 13 features with the maestro) takes full advantage of the voluminous running time to ensure every avenue of a remarkable career is noted.


He's much indebted to his archive researchers and editor Massimo Quaglia, who buries the surfeit of talking heads in an audiovisual torrent that wonderfully keeps throwing up songs you want to hear in full and films you wish were available with subtitles at the click of a button.


BARRY & JOAN.


Anyone who enjoyed The Last Impresario (2015), Gracie Otto's profile of theatre producer Michael White, will lap up Audrey Rumsby's Barry & Joan, which transports viewers into the wonderful worlds of Barry and Joan Grantham, the veteran music-hall and commedia dell'arte duo, who joyously disprove the old maxim about those that can't teaching.


The son of actors (his father worked as an assistant director to Alfred Hitchcock), Barry grew up in Alderley Edge in Cheshire. His father taught him Pierrot routines and he hit the club circuit as a teenager before becoming a keen student of dance after recognising his limited singing ability. Fond of dressing up, he created a range of characters and we see old photos of him playing everyone from vicars to Madonnas and Bo Peep to Widow Twankey.


The daughter of an army cartographer, Joan Chorlton was born in Kolkata. She took music lessons from an early age before returning to Haywards Heath at the age of nine. A childhood fan of movie musicals, she got her start in West End revues after the Second World War. Here she met Barry, when he joined the cast of a 1948 production of Song of Norway and they laugh when she recalls that she liked the look of his legs in white tights.


As Barry's mother had run a ballet school, he had also developed an ability to teach. Having trained with Stanislas Idzikowski in London, he danced in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes (1948) and The Tales of Hoffman (1951). Although not mentioned in the film, Barry later followed his mentor to the Monte Carlo Ballet and taught him the role of Arlecchino, which reinforced his fascination with the commedia.


Barry began working as a choreographer, but occasionally landed comic roles in productions in the West End. So they could work together, they did a music-hall act and signed up with the agency run by Joan Collins's father. They worked the cruise ships and Barry also did three seasons impersonating Charlie Chaplin at Madame Tussaud's, having mastered stillness at an early age. He credits Joan with teaching him to do tap and comic dancing, skills he put into practice when he choreographed the groundbreaking show, A Nude Revue (1957).


He later took over at the Irving Theatre to devise a series of popular revues, for which Joan composed the music for both the songs and the striptease routines. However, Rumsby makes no mention of the influence that Georgio Strehler's 1950s production of Carlo Goldoni's 1746 masterpiece, The Servant of Two Masters, had on Barry's thinking (although we do see clips of James Corden in Richard Bean's 2011 National Theatre reboot, One Man, Two Guvnors). We also hear nothing of The Intenti, the comic troupe that Barry formed in the mid-1980s, even though its spirit informs the workshops he now runs with Joan.


As the author of the acclaimed textbook, Playing Commedia, Barry is never short of students. Among their number are Rumsby and her sister, Evelyn, as well as dancer-musician Steven Player, actor-psychologist Evan Praznik, actor Galen Bonwick, clowns Liam O'Neill and Richard Handley, actor-director Rein van Schagen. commedia actor Elliot Ross and teacher Monique Squeri. All speak warmly of Barry's expertise and enthusiasm and Joan's musical energy, as do commedia specialist Didi Hopkins, Eccentric Dance historian Dorothy Max Pryor and movement director Emma Webb, as Rumsby uses charming animations to chart the origins of commedia dell'arte and show how it took the literary and the lewd, the courtly and the common to create a form of people's comedy that is still at the root of much performance humour.


To prove the point, Rumsby shows clips of Charlie Chaplin in The Champion (1915) and Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy dancing to `At the Ball That's All' in James W. Horne's Way Out West (1937). Barry and Joan also enjoy snippets of Jean-Louis Barrault's mime routines from Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du Paradis (1945) and Gene Kelly performing the title number from Singin' in the Rain (1952), which he co-directed with Stanley Donen. This leads into a discussion of Eccentric Dance, which is the art of unconventional or individualistic movement. Footage is included of lips of Sally Rand in `Bubble Dance' and Wilson, Keppel and Betty doing their famous `Sand Dance'.


Barry claims this enduringly popular music-hall act was American, but Jack Wilson was from Warrington and Joe Keppel from County Cork. Betty Knox did hail from Kansas, however, although she quit the act in 1941 to become a war correspondent and her daughter took her place. Now there's a tale that needs telling!


Over David Bowie's `Come and Buy My Toys', we see archive of Barry and Joan demonstrating commedia techniques. We learn about the value of masks in creating the Arlecchino and Pantalone characters, while anyone playing Capitano has to act with the top half of their body and dance with the lower half. Barry shows how the mannerisms of the Doctor are still part of comic technique, while we hear that knockabout characters like Zanni were often played by servants, while their `betters' took the more refined parts. As they couldn't always read, such below stairs types often improvised their business, while women were afforded the opportunity to play characters like Isabella, after acting had long been considered the refuge of scoundrels and vagabonds.


There's a rascally twinkle in Barry's eye, whether he's doing repartee or slapstick, and his sense of enjoyment inspires his students. They are put through their paces on songs like `Keep the Home Fires Burning' and `Me and My Shadow' and everyone marvels at Joan's jaunty playing and encyclopaedic knowledge of old standards. She beams as she describes a scene from a Hollywood musical she had watched the night before, while he name drops Laurence Olivier in recalling working on Richard Attenborough's Oh! What a Lovely War (1969).


They clearly adore one another and are very much on the same wavelength. Aided by editor Eric Pomert, Rumsby not only conveys her own affection for the pair, but also celebrates in this busy, breezy film the joy with which Barry and Joan approach playing, performing and, as it's in making a bit of a fool of yourself that you learn what being human is truly about.


THE WALL OF SHADOWS.


Reiterating many of the points raised by Jennifer Peedom in Sherpa (2015), Eliza Kubarska's The Wall of Shadows begins with narrator Rheka Yada relating how the murderous envy that Sobithonge and Phole felt towards their younger brother, Kumbhakarna, resulted in them being turned into Himalayan mountains by a holy monk. Although smaller than Everest and Kanchenjunga, the 7710m Kumbhakarna (aka Jannu) has rarely been tackled by alpinists because the local population consider it to be sacred home of God.


Living in a remote shack in eastern Nepal and a devout adherent of the Kirat faith, Jomdoe Sherpa certainly disapproves of husband Ngada agreeing to accompany an expedition up the unconquered east headwall in April 2019. However, as son Dawa has expressed a desire to become a doctor, she realises that the fee being offered by the agency will help him continue his studies and keep him off the mountains that she constantly fears will claim him.


Knowing he has few other means of putting food on the table, Ngada (who has eight Everest ascents to his credit) ignores his wife's scolding and signs up with Russian duo

Dmitry Golovchenko and Sergey Nilov and their new Polish teammate, Marcin Tomaszewski. Before their arrival, we witness the harshness of the family's existence, as they load up their cattle for a trek to the nearest market town and lug heavy loads in doko baskets. But we also see the striking beauty and forbidding majesty of the peaks and why they would be revered by those who live in their shadows.


As the climbers arrive by helicopter, it's clear they're in a hurry, as they have been delayed by five days and know that the weather conditions could turn against them. Ngada is concerned by their haste, but ropes Dawa and Jomdoe (who recalls participating in an expedition when she was pregnant) into accompanying him to base camp, even though this means paying a neighbour to feed their chickens and goats. A monk prays for the party's safety, but the going is arduous from the outset and the Pole is unimpressed by the refusal of his Russian colleagues to honour local tradition and listen to the expert advice the guides are offering.


Tomaszewski suggests having a bonding day rather than making a recce in poor visibility. But Golovchenko and Nilov disagree and head off into the gloom, leaving their companion to attend to his equipment and show Dawa pictures of his children on his phone. Having seen the route proposed by the Russians, Tomaszewski resigns from the climb, blaming a lack of acclimatisation time and proper planning and the fact that the warm weather significantly increases the prospect of avalanches.


The combination of the deteriorating conditions and the dismissive attitude of the Russians (to both his expertise and his request to give up some of their meat ration so the monk can make a blessing sacrifice) persuades Ngada to turn up his bumper payday and return home with his wife and son. As we see footage of Golovchenko and Nilov enduring icy hell on the slopes, Yada recounts another story about the fate that befalls three men who seek to venture on to Kumbhakarna. It concludes with the mountain giving the last fellow a chance to accept his limitations and leave in peace.


By taking such sound advice, Ngada promises to find other ways to make money and help Dawa fulfil his ambition. However, such a neat tying of loose ends serves to emphasise the stage-managed nature of many of the more intimate moments. Indeed, Ngada and Jomdoe seem so amused by having to bicker for the camera that they appear to get a fit of the giggles at the end of the take. The scene in which Tomaszewski shows Dawa a photo of his teenage daughter also feels forced. But, as Dmitry states with a sneer, `this isn't a film about climbing, it's about people'.


Whether focussing on faces or the terrain, Piotr Rosolowski's camera misses little in helping Kubarska examine the family's circumstances. Yet, despite already having the acclaimed K2: Touching the Sky (2015) on her resumé, the director doesn't always make the right choices in telling her tale. We get to know Ngada, Jomdoe and Dawa well enough, but the climbing trio descend from the sky as complete strangers and are rather depicted as disorganised chancers rather than the world-class alpinists they are. Indeed, it feels somewhat disingenuous of the film-makers to give the impression that Kumbhakarna has taught Golovchenko and Nilov a lesson by refusing to allow them to conquer it. In fact, instead of being defeated, the pair climbed a route they dubbed `Unfinished Symphony' after they had elected not to strike for the summit because of frostbite.


While she dabbles with the mythology of Kumbhakarna, Kubarska says frustratingly little about its topography and why the proposed climb is so daunting. Moreover, by switching her attention to the Europeans in the final third, she loses sight of the Sherpas. Thus, even though we see the wind whiplashing the tents to suggest the mountain's displeasure with the trespassers, we only get glimpses of the growing disillusion that prompts Ngada to walk away. His plight, the exploitation of Sherpas and the imbalance in global power are all issues worth highlighting, but this might have been done with more cogency and less off-camera coaching.


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