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The name of Italian film composer Riz Ortolani probably won't ring a bell to most people, yet it's very likely that you have heard some of his work.

Riz Ortolani's (born Riziero Ortolani) career in movies started in 1954 with the movie "Le vacanze del Sor Clemente" and ended the day he passed away, on January 23, 2014. In 60 years he composed the music for over 200 movies and TV series and many original songs, that often were included in his movies and often later reused in some better known movies, such as the most recent Quentin Tarantino movies "Inglourious Basterds", "Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2" and "Django Unchained" and the Nicolas Winding Refn 2011 movie "Drive".

Throughout his 60 year long career Ortolani mostly composed for movies from his native Italy, which included movies from many different genres, variating from giallos to mondo films and spaghetti westerns to exploitation films.

But he also composed the music for various American and British movies, which include "The 7th Dawn", starring William Holden, the Sam Peckinpah written movie "The Glory Guys" and the award winning movie "The Yellow Rolls-Royce".


Award winning composer


Throughout his career he was nominated for 2 Oscars (for best songs in the movies "Mondo cane" and "Madron") and won 1 Golden Globe for the song 'Forget Domani', from the 1964 movie "The Yellow Rolls-Royce". A song later often performed by Frank Sinatra.
Frank Sinatra sings his version of 'Forget Domani'

Beautiful music for 'ugly' films


Yet Ortolani will most likely best be remembered for the music he composed later in his decades long career.

Best way to describe his work was that his music was always something beautiful and melancholic to listen to, even while the movies themselves were often far from anything 'beautiful'. Death, violence, rape, mutilations, these were often some of the themes from the movies that Ortalani composed the music for, mostly during the '70's and '80's.


The best example of this is his legendary score for the 1980 Ruggero Deodato notorious movie "Cannibal Holocaust". Like  so many other movies, it starts off with the opening credits, that in this case involves a flyover over the Amazon rain-forest. Absolutely nothing happens but it's sill one of the best and most beautiful movie openings of all time, primarily thanks to Riz Ortolani's score.

It's a calming and soothing melody, that in no way prepares you for any of the gore and madness that is about to be unleashed. The music is an interesting and very effective contrast with the rest of the movie, which was a very deliberate choice by Ortolani and director Deodato.
"Cannibal Holocaust" opening theme

"Non si sevizia un paperino" main theme
Another great example of this is the somewhat lesser known movie from 8 years earlier "Non si sevizia un paperino", directed by Lucio Fulci, that involves themes such as child murder.

It's most notable during the end scene, which is something crazy, over-the-top, terribly fake looking yet very artistic and beautiful at the same time, which again is mostly thanks to Ortolani's music. It's truly something you have to experience for yourself!

Ortolani's music in recent movies


Ortolani's music recently became popular again, after the inclusion in movies such as "Django Unchained" and "Drive".

It's a well known fact that Quentin Tarantino is a big movie nut, with also a passion for obscure and little known movies, including Italian spaghetti westerns. It must have sparked his interest in, among many others, Ortolani's music, which eventually resulted in Tarantino including Ortolani's music in, so far, 4 of his movies. He used the main theme from "I giorni dell'ira" in no less than 3 of his movies ("Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2" and "Django Unchained") and the theme from "Al di là della legge" (both starring Lee Van Cleef in the lead role by the way) in his WW II movie "Inglourious Basterds".
The theme from "I giorni dell'ira"

'Oh My Love' from "Addio zio Tom"
But more popular and probably also better known is the inclusion of the Ortolani song 'Oh My Love' in the Nicolas Winding Refn classic "Drive". The song 'Oh My Love' originally originated from the controversial slave movie "Addio zio Tom".

The song was sung by Katina Ranieri, who Ortolani had been married to since 1964 and remained married to, till the day he died. Together they had one daughter, Rizia Ortolani, who also have been active in the movie industry, for several years.

Lifetime achievement award

Just months before his death, on 19 October of last year, Ortolani received a Lifetime achievement award at the World Soundtrack Awards, in Ghent. With this he joined a list of other great composers, such as Elmer Bernstein, John Barry, Maurice Jarre and Giorgio Moroder, among others. Ortolani, together with many other great film composers, was personally present to accept the award and several songs and music from his movies were played live on stage to honor his 60-year long career.


A wonderful and fitting end to a long and successful career, in which Ortolani has provided us with countless of wonderful scores and songs to remember him by for many years to come.

Addio maestro.
Riz Ortolani accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award

About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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