Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Favorite Composer: Pino Donaggio

My love of soundtracks is boundless, especially the orchestral kind. My favorite composer of all-time is Pino Donaggio, who has scored such classics as Carrie (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981), Body Double (1984), Don't Look Now (1973), The Howling (1981), Tourist Trap (1979), Raising Cain (1992), Piranha (1978), and even Seed of Chucky (2004) (!).

Before he became a soundtrack composer, Donaggio was a successful pop singer/songwriter in the 60s; his most famous song, "Io Che Non Vivo", was later adapted into the huge hit "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" by Dusty Springfield. I think his background as a pop singer is a huge reason why his film scores are so catchy and moving.

Don't Look Now was his first score, and it remains one of his greatest. In particular, the love theme is quite spectacular and greatly enhanced the controversial sex scene.

Brian De Palma remembered the music of Don't Look Now when Bernard Herrmann died and he was looking for another composer for Carrie. De Palma and Donaggio collaborated for several movies and each score is stunning. The main theme of Carrie is my favorite movie theme; it perfectly captures the heartbreak and tragedy of the story, yet it punctuates the last moments of happiness in the locker room before the shit hits the fan.

The score for Blow Out is another masterpiece by Donaggio. The last twenty minutes of that film are absolutely breathtaking and devastating, thanks in large part to the music and to the performances of John Travolta and Nancy Allen. The terrible, morbid irony of the final shot is almost unbearable.

And who could forget Body Double, with its beautifully tacky, 80s synth-pop melodies and sweeping, romantic strings?

His last De Palma score, for Raising Cain, is one of Donaggio's most underrated efforts. Say what you will about the film itself (which I happen to enjoy), but you cannot deny that Donaggio's music is masterful.

One of Donaggio's best non-De Palma scores is for The Howling. He had collaborated with Joe Dante before on Piranha, which is a great score in its own right, but this score is even better because it's so eclectic. The end titles theme is one of my favorites. As with a lot of his music, I can listen to it over and over! Fun fact: Donaggio's translator on both of these films was none other than actor/director Paul Bartel. Bartel and Donaggio both spoke Spanish, and Dante would relay information to Bartel, who would translate it into Spanish for Donaggio.

Ennio Morricone is the most celebrated Italian composer, and he's great, but Donaggio is under-appreciated. Quentin Tarantino showed his appreciation by including the theme from Blow Out in his film Death Proof; other than that, not a lot of people have come forward to claim his music as an influence. Joe Hisaishi did a wonderful tribute to Donaggio by performing his Dressed to Kill theme at a concert with the New Japan Philharmonic, and it's absolutely gorgeous and extremely faithful to the original.

I really wish Brian De Palma would use Donaggio when he returns to making thrillers. His previous efforts, Femme Fatale and The Black Dahlia, were rather weak and a big reason is the scores were not composed with the lush attention to detail that makes the work of Pino Donaggio so memorable.


  1. Throughly enjoyed this post. Pino is my favorite composer as well. Nice to see others appreciate his music.