La Dolce Rota

The Ultimate Best of Federico Fellini & Nino Rota

Ennio Morricone, 78, dwarfed by a visibly bemused Clint Eastwood, nevertheless cut a monumental figure onstage at the Academy Awards in February. Receiving an honorary Oscar “for his magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music,” the Rome native’s public profile – practically speaking – lost out 40 years ago to a whistled refrain from Sergio Leone’s grimy West world. Getting a glimpse of Morricone felt like John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing, one of composer’s most compelling film scores: There he stood, in the flesh.

Morricone’s sonic alchemy endures in copious modern soundtracks, from Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to the epic, statuette-nominated The Mission. 2005’s Ipecac-sponsored Crime and Dissonance found avant-spazzmen John Zorn and Mike Patton on the compilation tip of the maestro’s universal ear, as one ripe example. Were that Morricone’s grand precursor, Milan-born Nino Rota, Federico Fellini’s musical wingman for nearly 30 years, was equally celebrated contemporarily. The Ultimate Best of Federico Fellini & Nino Rota: Originals recently stuck its finger in the dike.

Rota (1911-1979) also flew home with an Oscar, but not necessarily for the right cinematic ringtone. According to Wikipedia, The Godfather – offered to Sergio Leone before Francis Ford Coppola – originally fielded 11 Academy Award nominations. “Rota’s music score for the film was initially nominated for an Oscar, but was subsequently withdrawn when it was discovered that Rota recycled some of the music he had written for an obscure 1958 Italian film Fortunella.” Everyone concerned surely felt better two years later when The Godfather Part II landed Rota the golden doorstop.

Fellini nabbed five of those sword-wielding bling bombshells, and sadly, none of them for writing or giving great interview. Paolo Ruggeri’s nimble liner notes for The Ultimate Best of Federico Fellini & Nino Rota excerpt the eternally waggish director from Rimini recalling how he became enamoured of old records he'd spun as aural placeholders during the filming of the pair’s initial collaboration, 1952’s Lo Sceicco Bianco:

“I ha[d] grown affectionate to that soundtrack and I would not change it. Nino agree[d] immediately with me, saying the tunes I had used for shooting were really beautiful. It was just what was needed, he said, I couldn’t do better. He said just this, and meanwhile, he was toying with his fingers on the piano keyboard. What was this, I asked after a while? What were you playing? And, looking absent-minded, he replied, when? Now, I insisted, while you were speaking. You played something. Indeed, said Nino? I don’t know, I don’t remember. And he… kept caressing the keys, seemingly at random, here and there… smiling at me, looking as if he wanted to reassure me.”

Spinning The Ultimate Best of Federico Fellini & Nino Rota, that caress leaves you purring like Anita Ekberg’s kitten in La Dolce Vita.

Opening on the trumpet fanfare of Lo Sceicco Bianco, Rota quickly drops in Fellini’s favorite goose – circus music! A sweep here, a can-can chorus there, and the piano of the innocents at the finale: Rota’s rolling, right into the familiar stroll of the I Vitelloni theme. Fancy a promenade along the beach in Rimini? Take Rota’s hand.

There’s the heavy heart of La Strada, crying with violin and the stray pluck of a harp. The big band bump and splay of Le Notti di Cabiria, whose all-encompassing scope – rumba to waltz to jitterbug to sleep – blows straight into three phantasmagoric hours of La Dolce Vita jammed into a six-minute snake in a can. Medley ready cinema sprocketed through a stereo.

Music for 81/2 bounces like a hot air balloon prior to the luminescence of Giulietta Delgi Spiriti, which then bicycles out of control. The Orientalism of Fellini Satyricon, modestly epic to and fro of Amarcord, later matched by Il Casanova di Federico Fellini, and finally the companionable piano of closer Fellini’s Waltz: Brava.

Meanwhile, lost somewhere inside the mass-in-an-aviary soundtrack to La Double Vie de Véronique, the meeting of another director/composer dream team –Krzysztof Kieslowski and Zbigniew Preisner – I bid you a “magnificent and multifaceted” Fellini Friday.

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Federico Fellini & Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone, Federico Fellini, Nino Rota

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