REVIEW OF NEW AUTOBIOGRAPHY FROM ROLLING STONE-ITALY
Pino Donaggio, pictured above with Brian De Palma at the 2012 Venice Film Festival, turns 80 today. In an interview posted three days ago by Massimiliano Cortivo at Corriere Del Veneto, Donaggio refers to De Palma as "my brotherly friend," who he met in Hollywood as he began his "third life," writing music for images, for the cinema and also television.
Donaggio was celebrated in Venice the night before his birthday at Rossini Cinema. The evening was to begin by retracing "the life, career and music of the great composer, in a conversation that will also be an opportunity to present the book Come sinfonia (Baldini + Castoldi, 2021), a biography released in October, written jointly by the same Pino Donaggio with Anton Giulio Mancino." Afterward, there was a screening of the 2020 film The Big Step. According to the Rossini Cinema description, it is "the latest film set to music by Pino Donaggio, the story of two distant and unlikely brothers capable of dreaming and taking a big step towards the Moon."
Meanwhile, at Rolling Stone, Luca Barnabe reviews the Donaggio book in an article with the headline, "Pino Donaggio, an eighty-year long symphony" -- here's a Google-assisted translation:
Mr. Brian De Palma has no doubts: "The Blow Out score is my favorite. The main theme is very moving, especially the music on the credits, after the fade out with John (Travolta, ed.) covering his ears." That is only a hyper-cinematographic fragment, as well as hyper-musical, taken from the book Come sinfonia by Pino Donaggio and Antongiulio Mancino (ed. Baldini + Castoldi). That is the fresco of a life in music, a life in cinematographic art, but not only.
"Up there I hear the angels singing for us, sweetly / it's a song made of happiness" recited Donaggio - who turns eighty on November 24 - in the famous single Come symphony, also interpreted by Mina. It almost seems that the angels really played a decisive role in the life of the musician. "A film critic friend of Brian (De Palma, ed.), passing from London to the airport, had seen, bought and brought to America the LP of Don't Look Now […] Brian had exposed the problems he was encountering in finding a viable replacement for Bernard Herrmann. And his friend: "Look, when I got back from London I took the Don’t Look Now record. It is from a new composer ”. […] Why do I always talk about destiny? That copy will have been one of the last in circulation, because in the meantime the English record company had also gone bankrupt."
This is just the beginning of one of the most significant musician-director collaborations in the history of cinema, Pino Donaggio-Brian De Palma, which would begin with Carrie (1976) and continued for eight films, to date, with Domino (2019), passing through such masterpieces as Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981), Body Double (1984)... That journalist who, thanks to fate (the angels?), found Donaggio's score for Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973), was Jay Cocks, film critic for the weekly Time magazine at the time, then Scorsese's co-screenwriter.
As a symphony, it is a work-river of heartfelt, chiseled pages, full of plots, sub-plots and anecdotes. On the first score for De Palma, the musician recalls how the scene at the cemetery on Carrie's grave made "George Lucas jump out of his chair during a screening". Donaggio-Mancino's book is many things together, just like the artist at the center of the story, composer, violinist, songwriter, singer. It is a short story, a symphony in words (consisting of an introduction / overture and four chapters / movements), an essay on music and cinema, an adventure novel, autobiography and biography. The childhood of a brat in the Venetian streets, until today.
Donaggio is spoken of in the third person, as the protagonist of a novel of an incredible and "cinema" life. His speech is carried over between narratives and passions, from adolescence to pandemic contemporaneity. A flow of consciousness in words, fragments of dialogue between Donaggio and Mancino, defined by the musician as "one who doesn't understand anything about Venice." Monologues by Pino and scraps of old writings. An email from De Palma to Donaggio in which the director notes: "You write enchanting melodies, sensual music, suspense and simple heartbreaking emotional phrases that bring tears to the eyes of the spectators. You also know how to shock and amaze an audience. Together, we have always found the ideal piece of music to accompany my elaborate sets."
The style of the text, like the artist's musical one, is at the same time melodic, destabilizing, precise and dissimilar to the contemporary, at times baroque, poetic, poignant. Obviously, it is not limited to the scores for De Palma, but contains the whole range of experiences and personal works. From training (family of musicians) to private life, from pop songwriting (memorable songs, like Io che non vivo, brought to Sanremo in the 1960s) to pieces reinterpreted by others like Jannacci (Mario) and Mina, up to cinema.
A long list of hits: the surprising and experimental score for Don't Look Now, the collaboration with Dario Argento (Two Evil Eyes, Trauma), Nothing Left To Do But Cry for Benigni and Troisi, Don Camillo and the incredible popularity of the melody Why for Terence Hill, Così fan tutte for Tinto Brass, up to Don Matteo again with Terence. Donaggio seems to have plowed with the same professionalism in popular and author cinema, exactly as he has never made distinctions between classical music and songs since he was a child - in a family of musicians.
Hill himself writes in the short but poetic preface to the text: "The undisputed quality of this composer is known to all. The public's affection for Don Matteo is due to the sensitivity and depth of his music. It transports the viewer into a rarefied world where the desire for the transcendent becomes, even if only for a moment, a reality." To say it with Pino's mother, perhaps the fundamental teaching in life, perhaps to find the help of fate or angels, is: "Butite nel mar grando!" [Throw yourself into the great sea!]
In an interview from a year ago at Sorrisi, Donaggio told Andrea Di Quarto the story of meeting De Palma for Carrie like this:
“Bernard Herrmann had recently died and Brian didn't want the usual Hollywood musicians. A friend of his played that soundtrack of mine and the spark went off. Editor Paul Hirsch called me, who spoke Italian and who shortly after would win the Oscar for Star Wars. I didn't speak a word of English at the time, but I remembered my mother saying: "Butite nel mar grando" ("Throw yourself into the big sea", in Venetian, ed). I threw myself. There was an affinity with Brian from the start. I understood what music he wanted and went back to Venice. He heard the music only in the recording studio."