Catching one of cinema’s masters is a rare treat; catching two at the same time is practically unheard of. But at London’s famed Abbey Road Studios this week, director Quentin Tarantino joined composer Ennio Morricone, as the maestro conducted a special recording of the overture from Tarantino’s new film, The Hateful Eight, for a limited edition vinyl press. In Studio 3 they sat down to discuss their collaboration with one another, with Morricone speaking through a translator in his native Italian. The sprawling conversation covered The Hateful Eight, their individual approaches to work and their mutual respect, while Morricone put his theory about the violence in Tarantino’s films to the director.
MORRICONE: The first Tarantino movie (Reservoir Dogs) was very popular in Italy and I thought he had a wonderful way of taking classical and traditional genres of cinema and making a revolution of that by adapting them to the popular culture of the day. This is what impressed me most.
TARANTINO: The first movie of (Morricone’s) would have had to be either For a Few Dollars More or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. After they were released individually, United Artists constantly put them in double bills and my mom had a big crush on Clint Eastwood. That would have been the first time I heard his music. From age 12 on I started collecting soundtracks and before I knew it I had a huge Ennio Morricone collection. The first soundtrack I ever bought was probably The Bird with the Crystal Plumage soundtrack.
MORRICONE: I’ll say something I said to Quentin when he first came to Rome to visit me: I’ve been impressed and even shocked by the violence of some of his sequences. But after a long meditation process I realized that while we’re shocked by the horror of this violence, Tarantino’s position is always on the side of the victims and the underclass. Through violence he shows support for its victims. I’d like to ask whether that’s a correct interpretation, because it took me some time to form it.
TARANTINO: Oh, very much so. In something like Kill Bill, which plays like a complete fantasy taking place in a fantastical world, where airplanes come equipped with places to hold your samurai sword, it’s different because I’m coming from a complete genre place. But in movies like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, as outrageous as the violence is, there’s an un-movie quality to the violence, and it’s laid bare, not easy. With Reservoir Dogs we were coming off a decade of Joel Silver action movies. I’m not putting them down, but it was the normal movie violence/action. I was trying to get underneath that type of stuff; closer to what novels would do when they dealt with violence, and dealing with what you’re talking about exactly.
MORRICONE: In the case of a Quentin Tarantino movie, I really tried to give The Hateful Eight a unique score, because he’s a unique director with his own signature style. I wrote the music for a lot of Westerns, but even though I wrote several Western scores, I tried to give each director a unique kind of music. For The Hateful Eight, I wanted it to make something appropriate for the movie and not a Western score.
TARANTINO: It’s not exactly a Spaghetti Western score that Ennio made, nor did I expect it to be. He had made it clear that he wasn’t really interested in doing Western scores anymore, which is why I was so taken that he wanted to sit down and talk with me about The Hateful Eight. I knew in my heart it wouldn’t be a Western score. I knew he’d respond to the drama of the story and, frankly, he gave me a horror movie score, to some degrees a Giallo score, complete with a diabolical music box that comes in from time to time. It was perfect for the movie.
MORRICONE: The creative process isn’t easy. I have to go into a crisis and question myself. I have to doubt and question and form a very important theoretical basis for the music I’m going to produce, because this music will have the moral strength necessary for each score, regardless of the importance or relevance of the film. In The Hateful Eight, there are some sounds that are quite simple, but there’s an underlying spirit that is very complicated. In the first notes of the main theme I use the bassoon in a very different way. It’s the first time I scored a piece of music like that with the bassoon, and this was also true for the other parts of the music because I wanted to give Tarantino a soundtrack that was all his own. In the past he’s used music that I’ve written in a masterful way, and also the music of other filmmakers. He’s someone who is capable of cutting and editing music. He doesn’t cut the music because the sequence is too short, he cuts it properly. He’s always shown a great respect for the music. This time I felt I wanted to give him his unique soundtrack, for him only.
TARANTINO: The movies I did before that way, I wouldn’t change them at all. I could even see going back to that. But on this movie, I can’t describe it any more than a whisper in my ear that I’ve never had before that said this should not be taken from other movies. This should be its own score and have its own theme and its own personality. That’s exactly what Ennio gave me, and it’s different than all my other movies. One personality that coats the entire film and backs up the drama and the characters. When we got together Ennio mentioned reading the script and a theme that played in his head as he read it. I was very intrigued that he had a theme in mind for the script and he didn’t try to hum it for me or anything. I asked him what it would be and he just described it metaphorically. He said it would have a forward momentum that would suggest the stagecoach moving through the winter landscape, but with an ominous sound overall that would suggest the violence to come. I was like, “Well, that sounds pretty good to me!” (Laughs.)
MORRICONE: In fact, we talked a lot about the importance of the snow. I’d like to pay attention to the main theme, because the use of this timbre from the bassoon and the use of these vocalists with these strange verses is really important if you want to go to the heart of the composition process. We had to decipher these kinds of things that are apparently simple but created the underlying moral basis of this score, with this very special sound.
TARANTINO: One of the things that happened organically when we had that first talk, he was getting ready to do a score with one of his best friends, Giuseppe Tornatore. It didn’t look like he had the time to do my piece because he thought I hadn’t started shooting yet. I was like, “No, I’m done shooting and I need the score in a month.” I thought that was that. But as we continued talking in his lovely apartment, that’s like a mansion, he mentioned that theme, and (sarcastically) I was like, “Oh, please, tell me more about that theme that you can’t do for me.” When he finished talking he said, “Well, you know, Giuseppe usually takes two weeks to get an assembly to me, so maybe in that time I could do that theme and give you the whole theme and a brass version of the theme and a string version of the theme, and then you can do what you normally do and make the best out of this music, but your theme would be original.” I took the deal! But I saw Ennio the very next night, and he grabbed my hand and said, “I’m going to give you more music.” Ten minutes of music became 16 minutes of music, became 22 minutes of music, became 32 minutes of music. He kept getting inspired and adding more to it.
MORRICONE: What I want to underline is that in this process, Quentin has always been full of trust and respect. I’m grateful to him because he didn’t give me any guidance or ask for anything in particular. He let me be totally free to propose the score. I was happy, but at the same time my responsibility and fears were even bigger because I had no guidance. I worked very hard, because I think he deserved something special, but when I went to Prague to record I was nervous because Quentin Tarantino was there and I worried he wouldn’t appreciate what I’d done. Since he was so generous and showed so much respect and trust, he deserved something unique and totally different, and this score is totally different from all the other scores I’ve composed. It’s a symphony dedicated to Quentin Tarantino.