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DVD Review: Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone

By Cary Wong

Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone: The DVD *** 1/2


Sony Classical 093456

4 Films - 9:41

The Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone CD, in which the notable cellist pays homage to the great Italian film composer (mainly focusing on his collaboration with directors like Sergio Leone and Brian De Palma) is being packaged with a bonus DVD. But instead of just the behind the scenes or "making of" material usually found in these DVD bonus discs, Mr. Ma has come up with a fun concept. Why not have up-and-coming film directors create brand new short films based on the new recordings on the CD? The four films included vary in style, form and concept, but they all incorporate Morricone's music with expert skill.

Yo-Yo Ma has always had a fascination with the visual medium. In the late '90s, he made a series of short movies to each of Bach's Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites with such diverse artists as film directors Atom Egoyan and Francois Girard, ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, and choreographer Mark Morris. The current batch of films, all under three minutes in length and completely without dialogue, play more like music videos for MTV. The four USC students obviously had small budgets, and even though most do not succeed as fully realized films, they do share an enthusiasm for the experimental.

The most successful of the movies is Ecstasy of Gold/Suburban Symphony (2:35) by Adam Stein. The piece concerns four seemingly unrelated people are seen doing rather mundane everyday things (cooking, working). One by one, they discover an artistic rhythm to their activities, cumulating in a frenetic climax where lives intersect. A nice job of editing the images to the exciting cue from The Good, the Bad and The Ugly provides a successful formula for Stein's movie, which has the most defined narrative of all the shorts.

Starting with a narrative, but veering towards an absurd streak a la Fellini, director Soo Hugh's Kid's Play (2:36) follows a man chasing a red ball through a park, where he encounters a puritanical nun teaching people the hokey-pokey, among other things. While not wholly successful as a film, the movie exudes an impish quality that makes one smile at the end. More of a dance piece than a film, Playing Love (1:45) by William Seth Dalton feels like a child's-eye view of love, with actors in animal suits who at first are alone, but then find each other.

Joshua Rous' The Mission: Gabriel's Oboe could have fallen right out of the film Koyaanisqatsi. Rous' main image is that of people reuniting at the airport, with travelers getting off planes. But along with the reunions, we also get images of people's faces crying. No explanation is given for these two faces of human emotions, but I felt a September 11th overtone to the piece which made it poignant, especially with the highly recognizable Morricone music from The Mission.

These films will be part of two concert presentations celebrating the release of the CD. The first will be at the USC campus on November 5th, with the filmmakers present, and with Yo-Yo Ma performing with the USC Thornton Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Morricone's son, Andrea. The second concert will take place on November 16th in Rome, with the composer himself conducting the Orchestra Roma Sinfonietta. The CD is scheduled for release tomorrow, September 28th.

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