Born on the 25th March 1926, Pesaro,Rome,Italy,Riziero ‘Riz’ Ortolani was one of Italy’s most prolific and respected film composers when he died at age 87 on 23rd January 2014 in Lazio,Rome.
Ortolani musical aspirations began when he took up up the violin at age four,he later changed to to the flute when a car crash seriously and permanently injured his left elbow. He was principal flautist in his hometown orchestra. He then went to study music at Conservatorio Statale Di Musica in Pesaro,Italy. At the close of World War II where he had served in the Italian airforce and played in the army orchestra he then went to be the musical arranger for the orchestra at the Italian network RAI.
In the 1950’s Ortolani had formed his own jazz orchestra which took various countries including the United States where perfomed at Ciro’s on Sunset Boulevard,he returned home to Italy in 1961.He scored his fist film in 1961, Ursusin the Valley of the Lions directed by Carlo Ludovico Bragalini. In 1962 Ortolani came to be known to international audiences when he scored his first film soundtrack for directors Gualtiero Jacopetti,Paolo Cavarra and Franco Prosperi’s film documentary Mondo Cane,a look at the world of strange oddities and bizarre rituals. The film’s theme instrumental “Ti Guardero nel Cuore”,lyrics were added by Marcello Cicciolini,subsequently British songwriter + producer Norman Newell arranged a version ‘More’ that became internationally known,covered by a host singers such as Andy Williams,Bobby Darin,Frank Sinatra,Judy Garland,Connie Francis and Perry Como amongst many.’Ti Guardero nel Cuore’ was nominated for the Best Song catergory in 1963 but missed out to Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn’s ‘Call Me’ from the film ‘pap’s Deicate Condition’ but did win a Grammy Award in the same year.His success with the theme tune from Mondo Cane led Ortolani to England where he scored the films, The Yellow Rolls Royce(1964),The Spy with the Cold Nose(1966),The Biggest Bundle of them All(1968) and The Valachi Papers (1972).He won a Golden Globe award in 1966 for the song ‘Forever Domani’ form the film The Yellow RollsRoyce which featured the vocal talents of actress and singer Katyna Ranieri who was also Ortolani’s wife.
Arguably the film score that is most closely associated with Riz Ortolani is for Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 film CannibalHolocaust,a film that is famous for it’s graphic gore, sexual content and for the depiction of on camera animal slaughter.Cannibal Holocaust is the first film to utilise the ‘found footage’ concept of which is now a common feature of many modern horror films,it tells the story of a film crew who venture into an unexplored area of the Amazonian jungle to search for a documentary film crew who have vanished whilst filming cannibal tribes.The young film makers recover the missing footage the original film crew had shot but their actions and treatment of the tribes people is so savage that it ultimately leads to their demise.The film is beautifully shot capturing the interiors of the Amazonian jungle and unflinchingly depicts the savagery from the tribes people and the film crew,Ortolani uses a lushly sweet orchestra score which it would almost lead one to believe that we are about to see a very different film to one that unfolds,the theme is reprised in various versions throughout the film,poignantly playing as the brutal violence is shown.Deodato specifically used Ortolani for scoring his film after hearing his work on the Mondo Cane,liking the rich orchestral feel that was used to back the bizarre imagery the film contained,the sweetness of the music against graphic violence makes for a film that lingers in the viewer’s mind and ears long after the final scene fades from the screen to the haunting theme.
In recent years Ortolani’s scores can be heard in various forms including Grand Theft Auto:London 1969(1996), Kill Bill:Vol 1 (2003), Kill Bill:Vol2 (2004), Drive(2011), IngloriousBasterds(2011) and Django Unchained(2012).
In 2013 Riz Ortolani was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Soundtrack Academy in Ghent,Belgium in recognition of his work as a film composer,arranger and conductor .Ortolani himself set up the Riz Ortolani Foundation which works to promote music via scholarships,exhibitions and concerts.
He leaves behind him a legacy of film music,having composed scores for 200 films spanning many genres,winner of 11 oscars and 16 nominations.
Riz Ortolani was laid to rest on the 25th January 2014 in the Church of the Artists of the Piazza del Popolo. He is survived by his wife Katyna, daughter Rizia ,stepson Enrico and two grandchildren.
Selected Filmography (Click the titles to go watch the trailers):
So Sweet,So Perverse (1969)
Web of the Spider (1971)Seven Bloodstained Orchids (1972)
The Dead are Alive (1972)
Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye (1973)
Red Rings of Fear (1978)
The Fifth Muskateer (1979)
Cannibal Holocaust (1980
The House on the Edge of the Park (1980)
Killer Crocodile (1989)
Article written by Bethany Venice Wiseblood
Edited by Peter ‘Witchfinder‘ Hopkins