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February 29, 2016
Morricone Wins Oscar Music Gold At Last
Bond song earns victory for Sam Smith, Jimmy Napes by Jon Burlingame
HOLLYWOOD—Veteran composer Ennio Morricone won his first competitive Oscar, and songwriters Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes scored an upset win with their James Bond song, during Sunday night's 88th annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
The Italian maestro, who was nominated five times previously and received an honorary career-achievement Oscar in 2007, won for his music from Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. Through an interpreter, he thanked Tarantino and producer Harvey Weinstein, and also singled out "the esteemed John Williams" among his fellow nominees.
As the award was announced by music-business giants Quincy Jones and Pharrell Williams to a lengthy standing ovation, viewers were able to glimpse four of the original-score nominees who were present, seated together in a box at the Dolby, including Williams, nominated for Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Carter Burwell, for Carol; and Thomas Newman, for Bridge of Spies. Sicario composer Johann Johannsson was working in Australia and unable to attend.
Smith and Napes won for "Writing's on the Wall" from last year's 007 film Spectre, only the second time that a Bond theme has won at the Oscars (Adele's Skyfall theme won three years ago). Smith, who performed the song earlier in the broadcast, dedicated the win to "the LGBT community all around the world. I stand here tonight as a proud gay man and I hope we can all stand together as equals one day."
(Smith apparently believed that he was the first openly gay man to win an Oscar; backstage later, he was informed of previous winners including Elton John, Howard Ashman, Melissa Etheridge and Dustin Lance Black and expressed regret for misspeaking.)
The Spectre win was unexpected, as the Diane Warren-Lady Gaga song "Til It Happens to You," from the documentary The Hunting Ground (exposing an epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses), was widely considered the favorite to bring home the statue. Gaga's impassioned performance of the anthem, surrounded by 50 survivors of campus rape, drew a standing ovation from the audience. She was introduced by Vice President Joe Biden. Later, Gaga expressed thanks to the survivors for their bravery and "relentless determination."
The Weeknd also performed his song "Earned It," from Fifty Shades of Grey. The other two nominated songs were not performed, a source of controversy within the music community for days prior to the telecast. David Lang (who wrote "Simple Song No. 3" from Youth) and J. Ralph (co-writer of "Manta Ray" from Racing Extinction) expressed their disappointment. Anohni, the transgender songwriter who co-wrote "Manta Ray" with Ralph, publicly declared on Thursday that she would not attend the ceremony.
Williams was briefly saluted at the 90-minute point of the show when robots C-3P0, R2-D2 and BB-8 emerged from the wings. Said C-3P0, citing the composer's 50th nomination for his seventh Star Wars score: "I always enjoy hearing his music. He is so very talented... for a human, that is."
Other musical aspects of the three-hour, 37-minute telecast: Dave Grohl played and sang Paul McCartney's "Blackbird" as the backdrop to the In Memoriam segment, which included Titanic composer James Horner, who was killed in a plane crash last June; and actor-songwriter David Bowie, who died in January. Danny Elfman composed the music for the animated opening of the show, "Making of an Oscar"; and the music documentary Amy, about the life and death of British singer Amy Winehouse, won the award for Best Documentary Feature.
Music director Harold Wheeler conducted the Oscar orchestra in the Dolby Theatre, after several years of being located several blocks away at Capitol Records. But the evening's sometimes strange musical choices left many scratching their heads. Chief among them was the repeated use of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" to play off winners – including remarks by director Laszlo Nemes, who had just won Best Foreign Language film for his Holocaust drama Son of Saul. The famously anti-Semitic Wagner was one of Hitler's favorite composers.
On Saturday, approximately 300 members of the Society of Composers & Lyricists honored the music-branch nominees at its annual Oscar reception at La Boheme in West Hollywood.
For this crowd of composers and songwriters, the excitement of seeing icons Williams and Morricone chatting together was palpable. Williams, 84, drew laughter from the crowd when he stepped forward to "congratulate a gentleman who has been such an inspiration to all of us younger composers." Morricone is 87. (Veteran composers Lalo Schifrin and Bill Conti were also on hand and spent time with the nominated duo.)
On Friday, Morricone was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 7065 Hollywood Boulevard. Hateful Eight executive producer Weinstein called his "one of the richest careers in our industry," and director Tarantino quipped that the gathering seemed to be "a little bit of Rome on Hollywood Boulevard."
Italian flutist Andrea Griminelli performed a theme from Morricone's The Mission, while LA Italia festival founder Pascal Vicedomini called the event "the most emotional day of my life." Also attending, and taking photos with the maestro, was actor Franco Nero, whose own resume includes more than a dozen films with Morricone scores.
©2016 Jon Burlingame