Scorer Morricone gets honorary statue


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Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns were never about the dialogue.

Instead, they offered up iconic images -- Clint Eastwood in his serape, his squinting visage, his hard lips curled around a cheroot -- and idiosyncratic sound.

Ennio Morricone's score for 1966's "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" sounded like no Western ever made. With its eerie whistle and its outbursts of gunfire, it was like a rattlesnake waiting to strike. In an era before home video, once a movie faded from movie screens, its score remained behind to summon up memories of the film, and Morricone's score for "Ugly" came in time to serve as part of the soundtrack for the tumultuous late '60s themselves.

Fittingly, as the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences bestowed an honorary Oscar on Morricone on Sunday night, it was Eastwood who did the honors. The former TV actor -- who went to Italy and reinvented himself as a movie star as Leone's taciturn "Man With No Name" -- recalled when he first heard Morricone's music for "A Fistful of Dollars," he thought, "What actor wouldn't want to ride into town with that kind of music playing behind him?"

On Sunday, Morricone bowed to the audience, shook Eastwood's hand and held his Oscar aloft. He spoke his words of thanks in Italian, with Eastwood offering a translation. "His deep gratitude goes to all the directors who had faith in him -- without them, he wouldn't be here today," Eastwood said.

Morricone's long-running career dates back to the early 1960s. He's scored more than 400 feature films, earning five Oscar nominations along the way. Although a competitive win eluded him, he was nominated for 1979's "Days of Heaven," 1987's "The Mission," 1988's "The Untouchables," 1992's "Bugsy" and 2001's "Malena."

At the Italian Cultural Institute in Westwood on Friday night, veteran producer Dino DeLaurentiis, who shares the composer's roots in Italian cinema, paid tribute to his countryman.

Morricone happily talked about his tireless work ethic and praised his son Andrea for carrying on the family tradition. As soon as they finished, Eastwood, demonstrating his always canny sense of timing, entered the room to shake hands with Morricone.

Eastwood, himself a part-time composer, related how he and Morricone first worked together on 1964's "Dollars" more than 40 years ago, noting with some pride that they're both still working today.

And Morricone, speaking through an interpreter, loves the fact that his "The Ecstasy of Gold" from "Ugly" opens Metallica concerts. Metallica's version of that tune is included on a new Sony Classical CD, "We All Love Ennio Morricone." The album's eclectic lineup of artists -- they range from Celine Dion, Renee Fleming, Bruce Springsteen and Yo-Yo Ma, to Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock and Andrea Bocelli -- suggests the scope of Morricone's scores.

But as Eastwood conveyed Morricone's words Sunday night, he added, "He says this Oscar is not a point of arrival, but a starting point to continue writing with the same passion and commitment he's had from the very beginning on the screen."