At one point during the mid-1980s, Roland Joffe was considered one of the world’s best film directors. His first two films: “The Killing Fields” (1984) and “The Mission” were nominated for multiple Academy Awards, with a “work-in-progress” version of “The Mission” winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986.
Nowadays, Ennio Morricone’s stellar soundtrack for “The Mission” is better remembered than the film itself. Mainly because Joffe’s post “Mission” film career has not lived up to the promise of his first two films. I have mixed feelings about “The Mission,” but this scene never ceases to bring me to tears.
Robert DeNiro’s character is a South American slave-trader who kills his brother in a duel after he catches him in bed with his fiance. While DeNiro’s character is acquitted of legal wrong-doing, his guilt overwhelms him. A priest, played by Jeremy Irons, challenges him to undertake a suitable penance. The penance is to carry a heavy bundle, including his armor and sword, across many miles into the territory where he captured slaves. The people who he used to enslave recognize him, are ready to kill him, but under the guidance of Irons’ priest, cut him loose. DeNiro’s character’s acknowledgement of the grace of a people who were ready to slit his throat is heartbreaking.
You may recognize a young Liam Neeson in the background … approximately 20 years before he became our generation’s version of Charles Bronson.
Much of Robert Plant’s solo work during the 1980s is hit or miss. 1983’s “Big Log,” however, is quite remarkable. From the album “The Principle of Moments,” this is a terrific “night song” if there ever was one. This is a song that sounds just about right when you’re driving at 1:30 am, with little traffic or lights around you … when you’ve got nothing to distract you … and you start really thinking about stuff … especially with those Ennio Morricone-style guitars strumming in the background. Too cool.
One of the most riveting films ever made is the 1969 French-Greco political thriller “Z.” While it won best Foreign Film at the 1969 Oscars, it was also nominated for Best Picture that year, which it lost to “Midnight Cowboy.” While I love “Midnight Cowboy,” “Z” is arguably the better film. It’s intelligent, fast-paced, action-packed, and was a sizable hit back in the day (grossing the equivalent of $84 million in 2012 dollars), which is amazing for a foreign language film. A big part of the film’s success is the awesome score by Mikis Theodorakis, which rivals the best scores by Ennio Morricone.
Some excerpts of the amazing score are below:
You can hear the influence on Giorgio Moroder’s classic score for “Midnight Express:
Many people say that Ennio Morricone’s best score is “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” “Once Upon a Time in the West,” or “The Mission.” All of those are great, but his score for “Burn!” (“Queimada”) is magnificent, especially this majestic piece that played over the opening credits. Director Gillo Pontecorvo’s underrated follow-up to “The Battle of Algiers,” starring Marlon Brando.