The Ecstasy of Gold

(…addendum to last month’s post,Soundtrack“)

Composer John Zorn penned a tribute in The New York Times this week to the great Ennio Morricone, who passed away on Monday at the age of 91. Here is Zorn’s opening paragraph:

Ennio Morricone was more than one of the world’s great soundtrack composers—he was one of the world’s great composers, period. For me, his work stands with Bach, Mozart, Debussy, Ellington and Stravinsky in achieving that rare fusion of heart and mind. Dare we compare the five notes of his famous “coyote call” in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with the four opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? Morricone’s music is just as timeless.

I certainly agree. And those of you who know me understand that I am far from qualified to offer appraisals of orchestral music, which comprises a very tiny portion of my library. Nor am I any kind of an expert on film, having watched far fewer movies in my lifetime than the average citizen. But I do know what works for me.

I’ve always found the Westerns of Sergio Leone to be quite absorbing…in a manner that I have not experienced with other films. I believe that Morricone’s soundtrack is the magical ingredient responsible. Leone’s visuals are striking, and their marriage with the Maestro’s music creates a chemistry that draws my full attention to the screen. There are moments in these films that hold me in a transfixed state—not with tension, but with something more akin to awe and reverence.

Whether or not the Western film genre is to your liking, you may still appreciate the beauty and the power of Morricone’s music, and I encourage you to enjoy the samples of his work that can be found online. Here are two of my favorites to get you started…

“The Ecstasy of Gold” from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, conducted here by Morricone, and featuring vocalist Susanna Rigacci:

Click above to hear “The Ecstasy of Gold” (YouTube video)

And the title theme to A Fistful of Dollars, performed by The Danish National Symphony Orchestra:

Click above to hear “A Fistful of Dollars” (YouTube video)

Morricone had a unique ability to bring drama and fire to a scene, along with that haunting beauty which makes his compositions so very special. Wanderers of the desert and the plains could hope for no better composer to score the desolate majesty that surrounds them. Farewell, Maestro.

Rock Garden

High up on the side of a mountain, I found this yucca growing from the remnants of its former, larger self. Almost looks like an attempt at landscaping, as if someone put the yucca in a pot and placed it on this natural shelf. But I’m confident that the plant found this great spot to live and grow without any assistance from us.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Agfapan APX 25 film

South

This is as close to Mexico as the Pontiac has ever been. From here, a short walk around the curve ahead brings you to the edge of Rio Grande River. The Boquillas Crossing, in Big Bend National Park, Texas, is for pedestrians, not vehicles. On this day (Christmas Eve, 1994), I went down to the water’s edge and watched people walking in both directions across the narrow and shallow river. No giant signs, no government buildings, no fences, no armed sentries…just a slow and simple flow of humans over the landscape, the way that explorers, cowboys, merchants, hunters, wanderers and conquerors have moved through this area for centuries.

After finding this photo, I went online and looked at more recent pictures of the area. The river appears much wider now, and row boats are used to move people from one side to the other. These stone pillars remain, but the crossbar above has been replaced by a low-hanging ornamental gate which blocks vehicles. And the crossing is indeed a proper port of entry now, complete with buildings, fences, cameras, signs and Border Patrol agents.

Kodak Tri-X film

First Light over Texas

Whenever I’m in the vicinity of Culberson County, it’s a sure bet that I’ll be making several trips up and down all 55 miles of my favorite highway, Texas State Highway 54. During my most recent visit, I decided to see how it looked in the twilight of dawn. So, I rolled out of Van Horn while it was still dark and drove north, enjoying, as usual, the complete absence of other vehicles.

Texas 54 terminates at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains, the highest terrain in the state. It was wonderful to see the mountains aglow as the sun cracked the horizon.

Acme Little Giant Do-It-Yourself Rocket-Sled Kit

rr still

Each time I travel the desert roads of Texas and New Mexico, I manage to catch at least one glimpse of a roadrunner. Usually, they just zip straight across the road directly in front of me, and by the time I reach for a camera, they’re long gone. I’ve never come close to capturing one on film (or the digital equivalent).

That changed on my most recent visit to the Davis Mountains. I had activated my phone’s video camera to record a scenic stretch of road. Almost immediately, a roadrunner joined the party. You’ll see it enter the road from the grass on the right, zigzag up my lane, cross the centerline, then run up the left edge of the pavement. As I pass, it hops into the grass and flies away. Far from a spectacular piece of cinema, but I’m happy that I finally got a lens on one of these beasts.

This short video has been slowed to just 20% of its original speed and there is no audio track. You’ll have an easier time seeing the bird if you play the video in full-screen mode (the icon in the lower-right corner of the video window).

Click HERE to view the video on my Vimeo channel.

Runtime: 55 seconds