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The Independent Culture
Among the hallowed cliches of cultural life, one of the most sacred is the contention that "If you notice the background music, it isn't doing its job properly", a ritual bit of forelock- tugging from the jobbing composer. In my view, this remark is second only to "The pictures are better on radio" in its power to curl the toes and dull the vision. So you can imagine the shock of pleasure in hearing Ennio Morricone (BBC2) (no unravish'd bride of quietness) announce that "the best film music is music you can hear". Self-evident, really, but you'd be surprised at how radical a notion it is. Fortunately for Morricone, he's managed to work with directors who aren't intimidated by this bid for equal creative billing. David Thompson's film, about the world's most famous soundtrack man, revealed just how influential his music has been in some cases. Sergio Leone, for example, reverses the conventional precedence of film and image, by sitting down with the composer and working out the main musical themes for his story before he begins. From then on he is dancing to the composer's tunes and he insists that they are played on set so that actors can also pick up the melodic mood.

The results, for all the reverence accorded them by reviewers and cultural commentators, tremble on the edge of the preposterous - those endless sequences in which narrowed eyes play a deadly ping-pong; the unabashed melodrama of the music amplifying the emotions of the scene until you can barely hear yourself think. This isn't just film music, it is picture music, as crude as a fumetti comic strip in its image making. It was one of Morricone's innovations, we were reminded, to use natural sound in his scores, effectively cutting out the middle-man of musical evocation. In his Western soundtracks, the percussion is scored for spurs, cicadas and the silky click of a well-oiled Colt - the melody carried by a lonely cowboy whistle and a desert wind.

Paradoxically, though, given the flamboyant display of artistic ego (Morricone stopped working in America because he thought the fees he was being offered were insulting) the composer can also bend his talents to the most demanding collaborators; Gillo Pontecorvo, director of The Battle of Algiers, recalled giving Morricone just four notes to work with for the central theme, musical hard rations from which the composer fashioned a memorable score.

After he had been persuaded to write the music for The Mission, a film which already existed in rough-cut, Morricone was obliged to fit his main theme to the movement of Jeremy Irons's fingers on the oboe, a crucial scene in the movie. The result was his best score - one that matched the epic scale of the film but never quite inflated into the sentimental bombast that mars some of his work. Which suggests that, however audible the results, however grand the billing and however large the fee, a certain amount of discipline and humility does no harm to the art.

About five years ago, Dr Brian Richards - Dick to his friends - was struck off by the General Medical Council. He had been in partnership with a man offering a rejuvenation cure made out of lambs foetuses, but Richards hadn't been disbarred for his part in pumping bogus elixirs into the buttocks of the credulous rich. He'd been struck off because he had been found guilty of plotting to murder his partner. The GMC took the view that this was, all things considered, a breach of professional courtesy, not to mention an over-liberal interpretation of the Hippocratic oath. In Doctors in the Dock (BBC2), a series about the policing of the medical profession, Dr Richards himself argued that his incriminating conversation (recorded on tape and video by the LAPD) had simply been an attempt to lead the other man on. No wonder his friends call him Dick, you thought, contemplating this somewhat flimsy defence.

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