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Soundtrack review: Once upon a time in America (Ennio Morricone, 1984)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Once upon a time in America (Ennio Morricone, 1984)


For me, Ennio Morricone is the composer who writes the most sweepingly beautiful music. There’s no word more suited for his compositions. It’s beautiful. It’s the kind of beauty that makes you stop whatever you are doing and just marvel at the blissful sounds that grace you ears. He has a unique sensibility and ability to write themes that transcend time and sound like divine interventions. Yes, we have John Williams, John Barry, James Horner or James Newton Howard who can hold their own in terms of beautiful music…but none of them is the Maestro. He is also the biggest inspiration for Hans Zimmer, and this says a lot…
His collaborations with director Sergio Leone are legendary. Almost all of them were amazing Western soundtracks that redefined the genre and have become pieces of music history. Almost all of them…because the score for Leone’s last ever film is special al unique, and it gives me great pleasure to listen to it and write about it. I have to stop from time to time, of course, because the beauty of this music is sometimes too much to bear…”Once upon a time in America” is an epic crime drama film, 4 hours long, starring Robert de Niro and James Woods among others and it chronicles the rise of four Jewish ghetto kids into the world of New York organized crime. The director was the biggest inspiration and influence for Quentin Tarantino, it’s part of his legacy. The movie has everything: childhood friendship, love, drama, betrayal, loss…And Ennio Morricone took his magic wand and put all those feelings into one of the most beautiful movie scores ever written.
I don’t even know where to start…Maybe with the enormous pride I feel when I hear “Cockeye’s song”, the best track of the score, a cue I would give 7 or 8 stars to, to set it apart from almost every other film music track ever written? It’s a theme that will haunt you forever, mostly because of one of the greatest artists my country has ever known, Gheorghe Zamfir, a wizard with the pan flute, who is able to convey remembrance, sadness, loss, longing, build a deep well from them and throw you at the bottom of it. Morricone’s eternal muse, Edda del’Orso, adds her own haunting voice to a cue that I’m sure everyone has heard at least once in their lives.
“Once upon a time in America” is mostly a sad score. Its general tone is like that, because even the beautiful childhood memories of the characters are seen through remembrance, from a time when everything is changed and broken and the characters have been through a lot. The main theme The cue “Childhood memories” is like a beautiful movie scene in itself: it starts with the sadness of Zamfir’s pan flute which shows the present and then suddenly turns into a happy, carefree jazzy tune when we’re transported back into the character’s childhood. The pan flute returns at the end of the cue, accompanying the character’s return to the present…The “Poverty” theme is another one I’d like to single out, a rich and serious piano tune, heartbreakingly beautiful, a cue that can melt even the hardest of hearts…
“Once upon a time in America” is a beautiful and lonely journey of the soul, a score which will make you remember your own childhood friends and what became of them, a score which will enchant you  and make your life a little richer…Just listen to it!
My ratings:
Cue rating: 96 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 76 / 76
Album excellence: 100%
Cues to listen to:
Once Upon A Time In America
Deborah’s Theme
Childhood Memories
Prohibition Dirge
Cockeye’s Song
Amapola Part II
Childhood Poverty
Photographic Memories
Friendship & Love
Deborah’s Theme – Amapola
Suite From Once Upon A Time In America
Poverty [Temp Version]
Unused Theme
Unused Theme [Version 2]
Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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