Jonny Greenwood

Phantom Thread Original Motion Picture Soundtrack


Jan 30, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

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I think we can all agree that the introduction of Jonny Greenwood as Radiohead's guitarist is superfluous. Never mind that he is so much more than that for his band, Greenwood has earned the title of master composer for his film score work in collaboration with auteur Paul Thomas Anderson. Upon learning that Radiohead's savant had nabbed his first oscar nomination for his score for Phantom Thread, there was a moment of quick IMDB searching and surprise that his composing for Anderson's There Will Be Blood had been overlooked by the Academy in 2007, considering how integral that score was in telling the story. (In actuality, it was disqualified because it had used music Greenwood had previously written.) Where the music of that period piece oozes over the disturbing soullessness of its subjects, intensifying the pall, it leaps in scale and grandeur in Anderson's latest fantastical vision into the past, in ways it must to convey the range of romantic manner it visits. Greenwood's expanded palette of color is commensurate with the exquisite hues and textures handled by the English dressmaking antagonist at the film's center, and the moods surrounding the relationship with his new muse and unexpected challenge.

The guidance of the music through the shadings between charm and repression has never been more instrumental, or stirring in an Anderson film. For Phantom Thread, Greenwood's spectrum widens to admit both shadow and light. His charge was clear: "There was a need in Phantom Thread to be genuinely following the romance of the story," he told Esquire. Like with any painting of romance true to life, the levity and euphoria is not without the lurking of tense neurosis, and through Anderson's eyes, the intermittence of unexpectedly welcome humor and wit. With an astonishing interplay of piano flourishes and operatic string arrangements provided by a 60-member string orchestra, Greenwood is the apothecary for the potion that heightens these elements of amorous connection. Beyond the ways it warns of the ills in There Will Be Blood and pokes its head out to highlight the desperate absurdity of The Master, in Phantom Thread, the presence of the music remains like a phantom in its spaces.

Greenwood is a student who revels in homework. Like Anderson during the early conception of a film, there is allowance for open channels of influence from sources of curiosity. For this tale, Anderson studied the lives, if not the styles, of famous fashion designers Cristóbal Balenciaga and Christian Dior and the obscure gothic fairytales of M. R. James and Beatrix Potter's The Tailor of Gloucester. In coordination close and far, Greenwood absorbed the musical trends of the 1950's, gleaning from Nelson Riddle and the full string-section jazz arrangements of Ben Webster, as well as Glenn Gould's Bach recordings.

The outcome rolls though accentuation of the haunting, beguiling and exhilarating, the delicate and intensifying, the fanciful and ominous, sewn with the discretion of a tailor to accompany the precise tone of every scene. Greenwood's writing and Robert Ziegler's conducting of strings is arresting, like a voice that stops you in your tracks. And when the piano keys enter as nimble and weightless as ballet steps, recalling Debussy, the imagery levitates.

It's almost futile to describe any of the 18 pieces without the visual counterpart but "That's As May Be" has Greenwood getting Hitchcockian, channeling Bernard Herrmann's score for North by Northwest. "Barbara Rose" engages in the staccato string diaspora dripping through Greenwood's There Will Be Blood score, and "House of Woodcock," the most lavishly romantic piece, swells to the epitome of falling in love.

In a recent interview with Terry Gross for Fresh Air, and in response to her remark that there's underscoring of music throughout almost the entirety of Phantom Thread, Anderson quite casually demystified the function of music in film: "It helps guide an audience. [In this case] through what could otherwise be a prickly story with a prickly character. There are moments that are light on [their] feet, that maybe without music might not be so light. I think it's a perfectly reasonable thing to use [music] as a way to guide an audience towards where they can relax and smile. They have this combative relationship, our couple, and after a while that can get heavy and sad and repetitive. You can help show what you need by using the music. It's an old tool."  

For a score to follow the narrative arc of a Paul Thomas Anderson film, scene for scene, rising and falling with all of its subtleties and secrets, a composer like Greenwood now feels essential. Phantom Thread is voyeurism, the eyes of an auteur burned onto rare old film stock, and needing of a soundtrack to dance along with it through the ballroom of imagination. Jonny Greenwood was equal to the task with musical accompaniment that doesn't just take your breath away, it steals it, leaving you gasping in reverence. (

Author rating: 8.5/10

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