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February 26, 2007
Music Tributes Fill Oscar Weekend
Academy honors Santaolalla, Etheridge; Morricone receives honorary award by Jon Burlingame

Gustavo Santaolalla (Photo courtesy of AMPAS)

Gustavo Santaolalla
(Photo courtesy of AMPAS)

LOS ANGELES – Gustavo Santaolalla, Melissa Etheridge and Ennio Morricone were honored for their musical contributions to film at Sunday night's 79th annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.

Santaolalla became only the third composer in Oscar history to win back-to-back statuettes in the original-score category: This year, for his unusual world-music score for Babel, and last year for the guitar-dominated music of Brokeback Mountain. (Franz Waxman, in 1950-51, and Alan Menken, in 1991-92, preceded him.)

The Argentine-born composer gave a brief acceptance speech that touched on the theme of the film. "In our soul rests our own true identity, beyond languages, countries, races and religions," he said.

Melissa Etheridge (Photo courtesy of AMPAS)

Melissa Etheridge
(Photo courtesy of AMPAS)

Etheridge won the best-song Oscar for "I Need to Wake Up" from the global-warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which she also performed during the ceremony. She thanked former Vice President Al Gore for "showing that caring about the Earth is not Republican or Democrat, not red or blue – we are all green."

For music fans, the evening's high point was the generous, 13-minute tribute to Italian composer Ennio Morricone, who received an honorary Academy Award "for his magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music."

Clint Eastwood, who starred in a trilogy of mid-1960s Sergio Leone westerns scored by Morricone, introduced a film montage while music director William Ross played a medley of themes that included Days of Heaven; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; The Mission; Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion; Bugsy; Malena; and The Untouchables.

Celine Dion then took the stage to perform "I Knew I Loved You," based on a theme from Once Upon a Time in America, with new lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Morricone watched while seated in a box near the stage along with Quincy Jones (who recently contributed a track to the new Sony Classical tribute album We All Love Ennio Morricone).

Morricone salutes his wife with presenter Clint Eastwood

Morricone salutes his wife with presenter Clint Eastwood

Morricone bowed graciously in accepting the Oscar to a standing ovation (the second of the evening, after Sherry Lansing's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award). His only English words were "thank you very much," after which he launched into a speech in Italian that Eastwood – presumably reading a rough outline from the teleprompter – attempted to translate for the audience. The 78-year-old composer of more than 400 film and TV scores was uncharacteristically emotional as he thanked the Academy; spoke of his gratitude to the many directors who had demonstrated their faith in his abilities; promised to continue to write music with the same level of dedication and passion he has always had; and dedicated the award to his wife Maria.

Earlier in the show, singer James Taylor performed "Our Town" (from Cars) with composer Randy Newman at the piano; and later, Dreamgirls stars Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose and Keith Robinson sang a medley of its three nominated songs, "Love You I Do," "Listen" and "Patience." Veteran film composer Marc Shaiman also contributed a funny song, "Comedian at the Oscars," performed onstage by actors Wil Ferrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly (with Shaiman at the piano).

The 3-hour, 51-minute show began with an unusual film by documentarian Errol Morris that featured brief clips of all the nominees. The Good German composer Thomas Newman had the funniest line of all the composers and songwriters glimpsed. Asked, "So you have failed to win an Oscar eight times?", he replied, "No, I've failed seven, but this will be my eighth." The "in memoriam" segment featured clips of one songwriter (Betty Comden) and one composer (Basil Poledouris).

The weekend was filled with events for the nominated composers and songwriters.

Friday afternoon, The Queen composer Alexandre Desplat was honored by French Consul General Philippe Larrieu at a luncheon in Beverly Hills. Desplat, accompanied by his wife and mother, graciously accepted the plaudits and spoke of the French composers who had preceded him in Oscar territory: Georges Delerue, Maurice Jarre and Michel Legrand.

Delerue's widow Colette was among those in attendance, along with The Queen director Stephen Frears, studio executives and friends.

(Left to right) Alexandre Desplat, Javier Navarrete, Philip Glass, Thomas Newman, Gustavo Santaolalla

(Left to right) Alexandre Desplat, Javier Navarrete, Philip Glass, Thomas Newman, Gustavo Santaolalla

Friday evening, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura hosted a reception honoring Ennio Morricone. Attending the event at the institute's Westwood offices and gallery were producer Dino di Laurentiis – whose several collaborations with Morricone include the composer's first feature, Il Federale (1961) – and a surprise visit by actor Clint Eastwood, whose trilogy of films with Sergio Leone, scored so memorably by Morricone, catapulted the actor to international stardom.

All five score nominees and six of the seven nominated songwriters attended the weekend's big music bash, the Society of Composers & Lyricists' annual reception honoring the music-branch nominees at the Beverly Hills home of John Cacavas (Airport 1975, Kojak) and his wife Bonnie.

(Left to right) Arthur Hamilton, Charles Bernstein, Ennio Morricone, Dan Foliart, Bruce Broughton

(Left to right) Arthur Hamilton, Charles Bernstein, Ennio Morricone, Dan Foliart, Bruce Broughton

Nearly 350 attended the event, including numerous dignitaries from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, such as Academy president Sid Ganis and all three Academy music governors: Charles Bernstein (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Arthur Hamilton ("Cry Me a River") and Bruce Broughton (Silverado). SCL president Dan Foliart (7th Heaven) served as emcee.

The crowd of composers and songwriters – the largest ever for this annual event – was clearly thrilled to have Morricone in attendance. Bernstein praised this year's honorary Academy Award recipient – only the second composer ever to receive one, after Alex North – as "several geniuses in one package" and "a melodist in the most profound sense of that word.

"The musical language of film changed when Ennio came on the scene. It expanded exponentially," Bernstein said. Foliart presented Morricone with an inscribed crystal trophy honoring the maestro "for his extraordinary contributions to the art of music." Morricone, who rarely smiles in public, not only did so but seemed genuinely pleased by the presentation.

Left to right) Randy Newman, Siedah Garrett, Anne Preven, Henry Krieger, Scott Cutler

(Left to right) Randy Newman, Siedah Garrett, Anne Preven, Henry Krieger, Scott Cutler

Foliart introduced each nominee, including Dreamgirls composer Henry Krieger and his collaborators on the three nominated songs (Scott Cutler, Anne Preven, Siedah Garrett and Willie Reale).

Randy Newman, nominated for "Our Town" from Cars, predictably broke up the room when he said that Pixar had "slowly phased me out as a vocalist," referring to James Taylor's performance of the song in the film and predicted that "I'm gonna show up and be steamrollered by Dreamgirls" on Sunday.

Desplat said he was pleased to be honored in "the country of my idols, Bernard Herrmann, Henry Mancini, Franz Waxman..." Champagne flowed freely as the crowd quietly debated the merits of the various nominees and who might win on Sunday.

©2007 Jon Burlingame

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