Friday, June 14, 2024

Franco Micalizzi: Life is a movie, without the soundtrack it would suck (Part 2)


The film (“They Call Me Trinity”) was a resounding success both in Italy and abroad, decreeing Micalizzi's entry into the ranks of the most important Italian composers of soundtracks. The theme of that film is still one of Micalizzi's most famous songs. It will be used on Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino for the final sequence and end credits. "All artists have their own Yesterday. At the beginning you say: 'Kill, this piece I've done is excellent', then they always recognize you for that, they just want that, and in the end maybe you don't like it anymore."

Ovidio Assonitis was one of the most prolific genre film producers of the 1970s. A Greek-Italian born in Egypt, in the 1960s he distributed over 600 films in the Southeast Asian market, and then began to produce and direct genre films inspired by the most famous successes of American cinema, such as Tentacles (after Jaws) or Stridulum (after The Exorcist), hiring American actors such as John Huston, Shelley Winters, Henry Fonda. In 1982 he produced Piraña paura, James Cameron's directorial debut. Assonitis fired the director after a few weeks of shooting, directing and signing the film himself. With The Last Snow of Spring, he inaugurates a successful trend, that of "tear-jerking films".

"Ovid was a madman. He was telling me two movies a day. He was always on the lookout for the coup. He had a cinematographer, Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli, who was very good... You know the ones who have a sense of framing, who always find the right color. It looked like a film made by the Americans, and it must have cost ten lire. The director of the film, Raimondo Del Balzo, did not have the physique, the soul, the charisma that a director should have. I never heard him say an idea, a thing, I had the impression that he had given money to direct the film and Ovid did not look anyone in the face. He said, "I want to make a huge hit, a lot of money, I'll kill my mom if I have to, I don't give a damn," that was his mentality. He wanted to put me in competition with other authors, but I didn't like it. However, not having many things to do, one night before dinner I sat down at the piano and instinctively some notes came. They didn't let me know anything and I thought they didn't have the courage to tell me it wasn't good, but I found out that they were filming and during filming, to create the atmosphere with the actors, they put on the piece I had composed."

"The final scene is shot on the wheel of an amusement park, where this sick child slowly dies in his father's arms. The wheel turns, beautiful, the images of this child, and with my music you immediately feel bad, you cry. It's mathematical. In the manifesto, Assonitis had written: "Too bad daddy won't see you again." But can you be meaner than that? My wife knew the film by heart, at the cinema I see a person running out of the room, in tears: it was her! The producer arranged a private screening for the three most famous critics of those years. While they were watching the film, we chatted outside and when the film was over, they came out, their eyes swollen and their faces practically deformed by crying. They were pissed off, very pissed off. They told us, very seriously: "You don't do these things. These are stab wounds given to the public." It was too punchy. We had made them cry by force."

"He cried all over the world. In Brazil it was an incredible success, in Argentina the song was in the charts for a year. One night I was home alone, I was making myself a pasta and I had the radio on. The program was The Hot Records, which was the best-selling chart, and that week my music debuted at number three. I was so confused that I didn't eat anything anymore. Once I get a phone call, no one is talking and I hear the record of the Last Snow of Spring in the background. I think: she will be the usual admirer. She was my middle school teacher. He didn't have the courage to talk to me, but he wanted to tell me that I was right to bet on music. Then he spoke to me: 'Franco, you're grown up now...'"

In the 1970s, hundreds of titles were produced in Italy. Many of these films, in addition to being incredibly successful at home, are exported all over the world. The Italian thriller, western, horror and detective stories were then rediscovered by American cinema. Quentin Tarantino has used numerous of Micalizzi's songs in his films, including the theme song for Death Proof.

"To a young person, I would say to see the great classics. In America they studied Bicycle Thieves, Miracle in Milan. There's that Anna Magnani run when she was shot by the Nazis in Rome, Open City, which I can see a billion times and every time I feel a strong emotion. The shamelessness of death, she on the ground with black stockings and a white thigh that appears. I think they only shot the scene once. Magnani was a difficult character, a very domineering person, but as an actress she grabbed you by the neck, she shook you."

"Our cinema was made with very little money. Certain scenes of the detective films I worked on for the Americans would have cost billions, we got by on a few lire. On violent Naples there is a sequence of a funeral that reminds me of those scenes of neorealism. There is the market, real, with its colors, and on the other side comes a Neapolitan funeral, one of those with the cart with black horses and feathers, and a very long line of people. Market life is a dead man locked in a coffin. As the funeral procession passes, the protagonists of the film can be seen running away, sneaking into the queue. And I ask the producer: "But how did you do this scene so rich, so complicated?" They knew there was going to be a funeral, so they contacted the lady on the third floor and for 300,000 lire they put the camera on the terrace. Do you see the inventiveness? The eye-catcher? There's nothing worse than a real funeral, people don't act. The Americans themselves, of course, very good, very organized, but such a scene would have cost a lot."

"Even the chases were all real. They would put the camera on a motorcycle in front of the car and drive off. It once ended up with a real police car chasing fake police. Half of the stunts who did these chases often did real robberies, the violence was real because they were underworld people, who got drunk in the nightclubs the night after filming and returned to the set the next day full of bruises."

The success of Italian genre films also derives from the particularity of the musical themes. Films were shot in a hurry, to take advantage of the success of the previous film or the American blockbuster that inspired them. Producers gave great freedom to composers.

"According to SIAE, and all in all it is true, the authors of the film are the director and the musician. They are the ones that really affect the material, because the screenwriters prepare the story but then they are not in the film, that is, they do not affect the film. Someone took this written thing and made it. In reality, there are endless helps, from the director to the cinematographer to the costume designers, the interior decorators, the stunts... There is also the editing, which for me is the third author of the film, the authorial passage that can change the tone of the scene. Watching the action, however, you realize that something is missing: "If there were some music underneath...". In cinema, it was immediately clear that the image alone could not live. Since the days of silent film, there has been a pianola underneath the action: we felt the need for something that would give depth to these black and white images. If you take away the music in some very beautiful sequences shot by Sergio Leone and watch the same sequence again, you say: "What a shit"! Because it's true, no one is aware that there is music at that moment."

"I'm terrible in life. You're so cocky, they tell me. Thank goodness! In our environment, if you're not at least a little cocky, you don't get anything done. With everyone who listens to what you do, you have to be convincing, because if you don't defend your work in some way... There is a phrase by Leonardo that I like very much: we are like insects in a painting. There is someone who realizes that he is in the painting and has the duty to be the protagonist, while the others are just insects, they look for the exit but they don't find it and they move until they die."

"Every once in a while you get to work with a director who doesn't understand a damn thing, pardon the bad word, and sometimes the producer is worse. Trinity's producer came into the studio and said, "Let me hear that thing they're doing there, that passage...", and he mimed... "Which one, of whom?" "I don't know, violins, no, no, no, what are the big violins called?" "You say double basses?", and I didn't understand... In the end, he wanted cellos..."

In addition to composing for the cinema, Micalizzi also creates soundtracks for the Italian versions of some Japanese cartoons. The compositional freedom for these projects gives him the freedom to experiment. The most famous is the ending theme song of Lupin III, sung by Irene Vioni and accompanied by the Liscio di Castellina-Pasi orchestra.

"You can see that hunger helps me, it reminds me that you have to eat and therefore you have to work well. I was back in the kitchen cooking spaghetti and this idea for Lupin came up. I didn't love smooth, I loved French music very much. I knew Casadei's liscio and I met Castellina-Pasi in the recording studio. I went to visit them in Cattolica and they had learned the piece perfectly, they had already arranged it and in their own way. Very beautiful. I recognize a worthy and not negligible characteristic of ballroom dancing: what they did responded to a popular but correct style, played very well."

Assonitis hires Micalizzi for his new film, which he will also direct: Stridulum. An important project, filmed in the United States with a cast of stars: John Huston, Glenn Ford, Shelley Winters, Sam Peckinpah. It's a mix between The Exorcist, The Omen, Close Encounters and Alejandro Jodorowsky's visionary films. It was an opportunity for Micalizzi to record in the United States.

"For me, it was an emotion. I didn't sleep at night thinking about what I was going to do the next day. I asked to find good musicians, but I quickly realized that there was no need to say it. A big orchestra, a lot of trombones, big double bass players, and you need physicality for the double bass. There was also a famous jazz musician on sax who stood there because he had to record for an Italian. They were all incredible and knew what to do on the fly. Oh well, so guys, well, let's go: at the first rehearsal it was played immediately with impact, better than I hoped it could turn out. I felt a pleasure, but you can't understand the pleasure, just a physical pleasure. There was Warren Wilson, who sang very well on Bargain with the Devil. I wanted to give him a style a little bit closer to spiritual, but instead he made it funky as hell. And the clavinet! I was the first to have it, I went to a store, and it didn't understand what it was. Then he started looking at the catalogues, and finally they ordered it from Austria. It has a sound that I like very much, because it's very effective, in certain things it's very funky, on certain tones you hear it full of irony and wickedness."

Stridulum, titled The Visitor in the United States, was not a great success, but over the years it became a cult film, so much so that it was released again in theaters in 2013 by Drafthouse, one of the most famous art film distribution companies in the United States.

In the main theme of Stridulum you can hear sounds similar to scratching, which did not yet exist, made with the synthesizer. Micalizzi's compositions have been used by the most famous producers and artists of hip hop: Gang Starr, Tyler The Creator, Kendrick Lamar, Danger Mouse, MF Doom, Slaine, Kool G, Ill Bill and numerous others.

"The first one was an American rapper called Cassidy. The phone rings at night, he's an Italian who makes clocks in America and he tells me about a rapper who wants to use a sample from one of my songs, but can't pronounce it well... Afiano (Breathlessness, ed.). He wants to know if I agree. I tell him to send me something, that I want to listen to him... At first I enjoyed the idea a lot because I felt the novelty of this thing, of these people who did it back then. African Americans have changed the music of this century. These Africans transported to the United States in contact with white culture introduced an explosive novelty, more than Mozart and more than Bach."

In 2006 Micalizzi participated in the project Gli Originali, playing with his Big Bubbling Band together with some of the best Italian rappers, including Colle Der Fomento and Kaos.

"Rap is a black thing. He has suffering, problems, racism, slavery on his shoulders: I have been chained, I have been whipped. When Frank Sinatra played, his orchestra members were thrown into another hotel. They have been subjected to racism and discrimination that we have never suffered. It's real protest music. We, on the other hand, always make music for the Zecchino d'oro or those who try to corrupt or amaze the bourgeoisie. Black people have a lot to say, but what do you have to say? De tu madre who brings you breakfast with two croissants... You live a well-being that does not justify all this anger. But Gli Originali was a wonderful experience, with the school of Italian hip hop of the 90s that had not yet been, there was a different way of saying things».

In addition to soundtracks, Micalizzi also composes soundtracks, hypothetical soundtracks that are then chosen by producers to set to music dramas or documentaries for TV, a creative process opposite to when there is a client for a specific film.

"I've made a few. It was a very productive time and they sounded great. Plus, you could do whatever you wanted, and they brought in great earnings. In the film, you start from the editing and imagine a piece of music. But you never have to get out of the story, if at some point there's a scene that has nothing to do with it and you feel like making a completely different music, you have to make sure that it has to do with the rest of the film. You can't get out of the spirit of that film, so your style, your poetics, has to hover. It has to be a continuous flow. With the libraries I was able to make music of all genres, from minuet to symphonic. I enjoyed switching genres with each piece. I also asked a lot of other composers, the good ones, to write things. And they were happy because things went well. If you hear them, there's not a song you can criticize."

"Sometimes I hear songs, of which I sing incredible praises, then I remember that it's my piece, and maybe thirty years have passed. You put the music at the right time in the movie, and maybe no one really pays much attention to it. Watching the action again, though, you realize that the scene would be missing something if it wasn't for exactly that music underneath. The horror vacui of silence. But it's also easy to make the scene worse, for example when there's too much music. Or when it's badly mixed."

The soundtracks were recorded in a few specialized recording studios, where the great composers of those years were constantly intertwined, often working with the same musicians.

"The Renaissance or other similar eras did not happen by chance. There are brilliant personalities who act in the field of art, but it is the human dimension that brings them into contact. Art needs commonality, even criticism of one another. Today, with smart working, which we artists also do at 80%, we have totally lost touch. I need to physically speak, to feel the vibrations that come to me. The things we say to each other on the phone are completely different from what we would say if we had looked into each other's eyes."

"The popular genre can be done very well, but today I see a lot of provocation, a lot of characters, a lot of aesthetics. Emotions are created through destructive behavior. But where's the style? Where is the idea? Where's the creativity? I would talk about music with my colleagues, but I'm not here anymore. When you have to have a meeting of the composers' union, you go to the cemetery, and I'll make Morricone president! I'm a survivor and it's a bit like that, you find yourself alone and when you say something they don't understand you, the others don't know what I'm talking about."

"Why? Eh, I don't know. Too many things I have to wonder. I know I don't know. Socrates said it, I say it too. And the only absolute truth, we don't know anything. With everything we've gone far into space. I don't know if we'll ever understand. I am convinced that you always live, life is already done. Time is an illusion, because it does not exist. When something is done, time, cinema, music form like rings like those of dubbing, so the scene is all already made. But you put it in front of the camera, you start with the engine and you see that it has an unfolding, you follow a script already written. Life is a comedy. You're already codified, and you have to play your part."

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