Opening cliché: There’s something special about Italian film music. That goes without saying. If you’re a film fan you’ve probably had a favorite tune in mind since the phrase “Italian film music.” Go ahead and hum it, I won’t tell anyone.
Beautiful. Since we now know that you’re well-versed in the ins and outs of Italian film scores, we don’t need to spend too much establishing that Luis Bacalov is one of the greats. Maybe he’s not as glamorous as Nino Rota (The Godfather, Romeo and Juliet, every major Fellini film ever), or as name-checkable as Ennio Morricone (do I need to list the films?) but he’s a major player in his own right, even though he isn’t even properly Italian (he’s an Argentine expat). The man has an Oscar, dammit (for 1996’s Il Postino) and you’ve recently heard the english-language version of his theme for Sergio Corbucci’s Django serving the same role in Tarantino’s Django Unchained (and he’s all over Kill Bill’s One and Two). To top it off he composed possibly my favorite Italian score, for the polizottesco movie Milano Calibro 9, in collaboration with the prog-rock outfit Osanna. That score in particular is a fine exemplar of the great way that Italian movie scores treat classical music, rock, funk, prog, and jazz as if they’re all the same thing and all with equal value.
So it was with great excitement and trepidation that I heard Bacalov had composed a new song, for the movie Hidden Moon, to be sung by “Italian Operatic Pop Teen Sensation Il Volo”. Oof. It’s hard to even write that phrase. It all sounds a little cheesy, but Bacalov is a great composer who’s still doing good work, so I’ve tried to keep an open mind about the whole thing.
Well, as it turns out, the song, titled “Luna Nacosta” is a little cheesy, thanks mainly to the modern production which in addition to being just slightly too clean features a pretty distracting snare drum in the song’s second half. As a composition the song is powerful, classic Bacalov, in somewhat more earnest mode than the aforementioned theme for Django, with the possibly-adenoidal singers (seriously, these teens sound like they’re pushing thirty), having at it with full-throated abandon. This might be off-putting to some listeners, but European pop, in addition to being a little schlocky, has always been a little more open and sincere in the emotion department than its more ironic English-languge counterparts. All in all, a welcome surprise, albeit with minor reservations, especially since Bacalov is getting up there in years.
It’s heartening that in the current climate of Hollywood music, with their washes of amorphous synthesized noise, that there’s still people like Bacalov and Morricone making music, however sporadically. It’s best we cherish them while they’re still around.