Posted by: soundlounge | January 12, 2009

There Will Be Music

Photo by Paste Magazine

Paul Thomas Anderson’s film There Will Be Blood, is a tale of a misanthropic oil man Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) in California at the turn of the last century. Underscoring this powerful film, is a soundtrack composed by Radiohead’s, Jonny Greenwood. The music is often abrasive, dissonant, disturbing and always very loud. Though it’s not widely known, Greenwood is not new to orchestration, having completed one film score before (for an experimental documentary called ‘Bodysong’), in addition to being commissioned by the BBC to compose a piece called ‘Popcorn Superhet Receiver’, which is excerpted in TWBB and helped get him this commission. Along with Greenwood’s score there are selections from the works of Arvo Part, as well as Johannes Brahms’ ‘Concerto in D Major’.

There are strong similarities in both music and theme to another film, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the opening to 2001, the oft-emulated ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ rings out as apes discover a monolith in their midst that signifies the next step in their evolution. One of them soon thereafter discovers how to use a bone as a club to beat down and kill another ape of an opposing tribe to assert his dominance. Now fast forward to the opening of There Will Be Blood, where Greenwood’s score mimics ‘Zarathustra’ as the lands of California are revealed – lands that hide a resource that signifies the next major step in industrialisation and wealth. There are traces of Penderecki and Ligeti (two composers whose work can be found in several Kubrick films) in Jonny Greenwood’s magnificent score. Compare Ligeti’s pre-credit opening sequence from 2001 with Greenwood’s track, ‘Henry Plainview’.

Probably the most innovative use of music in TWBB, is its use as a narrative device. In one particular scene when Plainview first speaks to the people of Little Boston, he employs standard political rhetoric (“the children are the future”) and promises to bring wealth and prosperity to their town. Underscoring this scene, the music is filled with a sense of imminent dread and fear, keeping you on edge the entire time and seems to jar somewhat with the images of renewal and promise of that we are witnessing. What we are actually hearing, is the score being used to indicate the unsurprisingly disastrous outcome of Plainview failing to follow through on his promises. Through this unconventional use of sound and image, Anderson is providing the viewer with a complete story arc and therefore eliminating the need to even shoot the later scene. Such a brave implementation of music as this and other such scenes in ‘There Will Be Blood’ makes this film a true landmark in the marriage of sound and image in cinema.

Watch clip here:

Words by Brian Kelly – Creative Director


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