5. The Leopard
The Leopard is another epic collaboration between Luchino Visconti and Nino Rota. The film is based on a novel of the same name from writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Set in the 1860s, The Leopard is similar to some of the themes in Rocco and his Brothers. It depicts the struggle of a Sicilian upper-class family as they try to come to terms with the changing societal norms.
The times are shifting for any aristocratic family at the time of the film, as the union of social classes in Italy is finally going underway. The Italian people want equality and they’re willing to fight for it. Seeing this and fearing for the political placement of his family, Prince Don Fabrizio Salina agrees to have his nephew marry into the middle class.
Why Nino Rota’s music works: Nino Rota did a fantastic job composing the score and adhering to the time period the film is set in. The overall melody mirrors that of an epic opera. One of the most important moments in The Leopard is the engagement of Tancredi and Angelica.
The waltzes composed around this and during other key moments in the film sound like they actually could’ve been played on the floor during the 1800s. Rota’s work on The Leopard is so distinct and romantic; it’s definitely one of the best in his career.
4. La Strada
Giulietta Masina returns to collaborate with her husband Federico Fellini in the film, La Strada, in one of his most simple and yet depressing films on his resume. Compared to the rest of Fellini’s films, La Strada is so simple in the fact that there is a basic plot and characters to follow. Just like Nights of Cabiria, there are no moments where it’s left to our interpretation to discuss what’s going on in the world Fellini has created.
La Strada centers around Gelsomina and her own journey to self-discovery. She’s taken away from her home unwillingly to join a circus act with a fellow named Zampanò. His main act is to convince an audience that he can break iron chains with his bare chest. Zampanò is aggressive and doesn’t offer Gelsomina much freedom. Due to that, Gelsomina rebels and goes off on her own, meeting another circus actor along the way.
Why Nino Rota’s music works: Rota’s score is both fun and upbeat, but there is always an underscore of sadness because of Gelsomina’s character arc. She has never been far in the outside world, and after traveling with Zampanò, her perspective broadens and ultimately ends for the worst.
Gelsomina suffers a broken heart near the end of the film, and the result of Rota’s score has us feeling the same thing she does: regret, sorrow, and desolation. It’s hard not to join Zampanò and come to tears at the end of the film.
3. 8 ½
The film 8 ½ is essentially Federico Fellini’s own twist on the classic plot of a director in search of inspiration; or in Guido Anselmi’s case, a serious lack of motivation. As Guido continues to procrastinate in the process of directing his new science fiction film, he travels back to his past with certain memories that are key to the person he is. Each memory and fantasy that he has involves an important woman from his life: a local prostitute from his youth, his current mistress, his wife, etc.
During the course of the film, it is often difficult to identify what is real and what is merely part of Guido’s subconscious. Everything in his mind is interwoven with the reality of Guido just trying to finish the film he has no enthusiasm for.
Why Nino Rota’s music works: The score to 8 ½ fits the avant-garde nature of the film. The almost circus like and upbeat compositions feel like it would be something playing in a dream or the soundtrack to a prevalent memory. There is almost always a comedic feel to the tracks that poke fun at the fact Guido can’t seem to find inspiration anywhere.
2. The Godfather
The Godfather is the gangster film to end all gangster films; the movie that launched a thousand homages and parodies to crime culture. With Francis Ford Coppola directing, the film was adapted from Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name.
Coppola’s film is mostly known for its depiction of the infamous Corleone family. The family is a central character in the film but the main focus throughout The Godfather, and the trilogy, is Michael Corleone.
It’s Michael who is thrown into the family’s dirty business after he shows up to his sisters wedding, introducing everyone to his then girlfriend, Kay. Shortly after his father, Vito, is shot down in the street, he’s forced to finally join the family business and perform an act that will change the course of his life forever.
Why Nino Rota’s music works: Nino Rota’s contribution to the film is the iconic theme that carries over to almost every character in the Corleone family. Often times throughout the film, the score has different meanings relating to what Vito, Michael, Sonny, etc., are going through.
The central love theme of Nino’s score has several different meanings but most of all, it feels like a funeral march. It’s no surprise Rota took this route based on all the death and sadness the Corleone family has caused each other, and anyone who comes in their way.
The title to one of Fellini’s most bittersweet and honest films stands for, “I remember” in Italian. As such, the film is structured like the subconscious – running in and out of memories so seamlessly one wouldn’t even notice they’re dreaming. There are some points in Amarcord where characters break the forth wall; like in the beginning of the film when we’re introduced to the infamous puffballs through a poem by Giudizio.
Even if one didn’t have interactions that mirrored the movie as a youth, the nostalgia is heavy and easily relatable. It’s certainly hard not to feel desire for ones childhood. The events in the film are highly important when it comes to memories, but not as prevalent as the people surrounding them. Despite there being no concrete structure to the film, the core element of Amarcord is built by the relationships that the central character has with others.
The film centers around Titta, a teenage boy who has a dysfunctional family and one hell of a rowdy group of friends. Titta gets himself into mischief while at school, witnesses fascist ceremonies mirroring those from WWII, picks fights with his family for the sole purpose of his own entertainment, and engages in numerous sexual romps with women throughout the town.
As we follow Titta around on his adventures, the film begins to feel like the obvious satirical take that it is – poking fun at the societal norms at the time through Fellini’s exaggerations.
Why Nino Rota’s music works: The score by Nino Rota is almost haunting – though it is fueled more by nostalgia, the dreamlike symphony sends chills down one’s spine as it follows the life of Titta.
Author Bio: Nia is a storyteller based in Los Angeles, where she spends her days joyfully making cartoons at Renegade Animation. Her lifelong love affair with cinema began as a child where she grew up on a strict diet of classic and animated films. Nia previously wrote for BuzzFeed and is currently a Co-Writer for Upcoming Pixar (https://pixarplanet.com/blog/). You can follow her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/aloofness).