The score to any film is just as important as the story itself. Without music, the film has no life. Throughout Nino Rota’s career, he has brought a unique approach to each of his films through the clever use of instruments and the music he’s created around the characters.
It’s impossible not to think of The Godfather films without humming Rota’s theme, or to watch La Dolce Vita and not want to have an Italian dance party immediately after. Nino Rota’s music is equally iconic as Michael Corleone or Marcello Rubini.
It’s hard trying to think about what kind of films the aforementioned titles would be if say, Bernard Herrmann or Ennio Morricone took the helm. In fact, what would ANY Fellini film be like without his long-time collaboration with Nino Rota? It was Rota himself who composed the scores to every single one of his films.
Nino Rota was a master and showed great diversity with the type of stories he could tell with his music. With every film baring Rota’s name, there was always a great longing in his music that transgressed through the characters and stayed with you long after the film ended.
10. Death on the Nile
Who doesn’t love a good ol’ murder mystery film? And one in fact that was even adapted from an Agatha Christie novel? Death on the Nile is loads of fun as we follow the world-renowned detective Hercule Poirot around Egypt as he tries to solve one of the most intriguing and dangerous cases he’s ever accepted.
Without giving much of the plot away, a body was found (as one usually is in these films) on a boat and there are 9 people who could be responsible for the murder. With an all-star cast to boot, we follow Poirot around one plot twist after another, as we search for the murderer; all while enjoying the sights of Egypt.
Why Nino Rota’s music works: The music behind Death on the Nile is an epic one, as it perfectly captures both the time period the film is set in and the magnitude of the setting. The Egyptian themes in the score have an obvious underscore of mystery set to them. It certainly keeps us on our toes as we try to figure out who the guilty culprit is.
9. Romeo and Juliet
Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet: two star-crossed lovers who throw themselves into a deadly relationship despite the standing opposition of their two families. This time around, the film is directed by Franco Zeffirelli and adheres to the language and time period of the stage play. Though the film is your standard adaption of the Shakespearean classic, it’s beautifully shot and the lead actors who portray Romeo and Juliet sell the tragedy of the film.
Why Nino Rota’s music works: His work on Romeo and Juliet is what makes the film so unique and stand out from the rest of the adaptations. His theme for the doomed Romeo and Juliet is slow, operatic, and full of love. There is a great sadness indicated throughout the melody that fits perfectly with the fate of everyone involved in this infamous story.
8. Rocco and his Brothers
Rocco and his Brothers is one of few collaborations between Luchino Visconti and Nino Rota. Like most of Visconti’s work, Rocco and his Brothers falls in between symbolizing the Italian realism of the time and closely resembling a Greek tragedy.
The film most certainly portrays the heartbreaking downfall of five brothers after the passing of their father. The family decides to move to an commercial city, and the film thus shows the struggle of the brothers as they try to assimilate into a new society. They’re forced to chose between the loyalty of the family or fending only for themselves.
Why Nino Rota’s music works: The score behind Rocco and his Brothers is heavy and ominous. Unlike the previous scores to the other films mentioned, there really is no hint of hope accompanying the music. Like the film itself, the music makes ones heart heavy and full of dread; feeling the struggle of each brother as they attempt to adjust to the new changes in their lives.
7. La Dolce Vita
La Dolce Vita most certainly depicts, “the good life” as the title states. Another one of Fellini’s most notable films, it is rather modest when it comes to both the story and the structure of the events represented.
Fellini’s film basically shadows master journalist Marcello Rubini around as he parties with celebrities, deals with relationship issues concerning his fiancée and father, and attempts to get the phone numbers of any beautiful woman he comes across. The structure of the film has been debated upon and even split up into chapters based on when Marcello’s actions take place; each night and day activity of the character is prevalent to the films purpose.
Why Nino Rota’s music works: Nino Rota’s score to La Dolce Vita is probably one of the most upbeat melodies he’s done; it’s quite fun as it fits against the characters actions throughout the film. Even during some of the more tragic moments, such as Marcello’s fiancée’s attempted suicide or his father’s heart attack, the score always remains optimistic.
6. Nights of Cabiria
It is well known that Nino Rota’s collaborations with Fellini are one of the most iconic in film history, but nothing beats the work partnership of Fellini and wife, Giulietta Masina. In Nights of Cabiria, Giulietta is the star of the film and because of that, like so many other films they worked on together, she makes it one of Fellini’s best. In it, she infamously plays Cabiria, a prostitute with a heart of gold.
The main character is thrown through many unpleasant hoops throughout Nights of Cabiria. At the start she nearly drowns after her then boyfriend steals her money and pushes her in a river. She continues to meet several people after the near death experience that help shape her into a better person; one that is more trusting and open to forgiving others.
After being hypnotized at a magic show, she meets another fellow who she becomes madly in love with. Soon they’re engaged and she sells everything for their future together. One thing leads to another… and at the end of the film she’s back where she started; except the only thing she has left is her faith to keep her going.
Why Nino Rota’s music works: The music composed around the heartbreaking story of Cabiria is heavy as it follows the ups and downs of the character throughout the course of the film. The most important aspect of the score is the hint of hopefulness under all of the tragedy, as the ending even suggests.
Despite the constant betrayals and danger from all the men in Cabiria’s life, there is still hope and optimism in Rota’s beautiful score. Not only does Cabiria not want to give up, but even the score fuels us with that extra bit of confidence to carry on in the future.