For those who have not studied film history let me introduce you to Jean-Luc Godard. He was one of a handful of French film critics who decided to apply their philosophy of cinema to making films themselves creating the Nouvelle Vague or New Wave. These included Louis Malle, Francois Truffaut and Claude Chabrol but Godard separated himself widely from the bunch by finding a new language, deconstructing cinema. He did this by making you aware of cinematic devices using jump cuts, repetition, arbitrary fades, and, stopping and starting the music randomly trying to bring attention to HOW cinema manipulates you. Being a Marxist he tried to create a dialectic for film, in other words he wanted you to talk back to the screen. This may seem ironic because he LOVED American films and directors like John Ford, Douglas Sirk and even Jerry Lewis but he felt THEY had already done all they could do with traditional narrative film. As a projectionist I would sit in the back of certain Godard films and watch how many walked out on them, usually more than half. But lest you think he was all pretentious hogwash and inaccessible there are legendary sequences from his films that stay in the memory. The traffic jam in WEEKEND that had a tracking shot that made TOUCH OF EVIL look like a cutaway; the “thank you” machine in ALPHAVILLE, the dance in BAND OF OUTSIDERS, the strange mechanical sex game in EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF and even Woody Allen “sewing” film together in KING LEAR. He did influence many a filmmaker of the time and eventually won a lifetime achievement Oscar.
Now Morricone never wrote a score for Godard BUT one of Ennio’s oldest collaborators (before Leone) Bernardo Bertolucci chose as his third film PARTNER, a Godardian film if there ever was one. Godard’s composers weren’t exactly thrilled by what he did with their scores. Even Georges Delerue, who arguably wrote the most memorable Godard theme CONTEMPT, had misgivings the way it was used. But with Ennio Morricone Bertolucci had an experimentor who would regularly explain twelve tone to whoever wanted to hear and approached each new assignment as if he was playing chess. If the film director wanted to make a traditional move Ennio could reciprocate but if you made a radical move he would do so right back at you AND at the same time keep the overall concept of the project in mind. With Morricone you had a collaborator who understood radical approaches. He was part of the Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consanza, an avant-garde free improvisation group considered the first experimental composers collective. Couldn’t get farther out than that.
The jumping off point of Bertolucci’s PARTNER was Dostoevsky’s “The Double” and Morricone wrote a main title that would have made Godard pleased. As if anticipating what would be done with his music he has 5 different pieces of music that stop and start, fade in and out, and some of them sound as if he wrote them to do just that. A piano opening, a tango, an abstract Pederecki type piece, a flowery Hollywood tune and “suspense” music.
Many times you have heard of a composer phoning it in. You really have to look hard to find Morricone doing this. But what if what is demanded of you is music that is supposed to bring out HOW music manipulates you? One way is to do it mechanically, without real feeling. Whenever Morricone is asked for suspense music or a love theme he adds the flavor of a character or story to make it a specific experience. Here, for the first time, none of these cues do that. So because of that this HAS to be the least in-demand score from Ennio Morricone due to the way it is utilized, it is closer to a “mock” score than a real one. Everything is generic. The one stand-out cue is Ennio’s one and only commercial “jingle”, written in English, called “Splash”. The lyrics of which obviously refer to a popular American laundry detergent of the time represented by a white knight that was “stronger than dirt” – Ajax.
The “soundtrack” to this score first appeared on a Cam LP with the cover of the film GALILEO on one side and PARTNER on the other. There are only 4 cues on this LP from PARTNER and every subsequent release of this score. That is because there isn’t a lot more to this score. Godard and Bertolucci would repeat cues a lot and consciously. Yet you get it when you see the film (and if you know how a Godardian film works).
So there you have it. In cinema Godard represents one of the furthest outposts from the center there is. And Morricone joins Bertolucci out there. Sometimes when people say Morricone will score anything in a sense they are right. But it should be added and he approaches each such assignment seriously and as a challenge. For aficionados only.