Home > Reviews > THERE WILL BE BLOOD – Jonny Greenwood

THERE WILL BE BLOOD – Jonny Greenwood

December 28, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the most critically acclaimed motion pictures of 2007, director Paul Thomas Anderson’s dramatic character study There Will Be Blood is based on the 1927 novel “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair, and charts the beginnings of the California oil industry. Daniel Day Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a single-minded and opportunistic businessman who, through a combination of bullying, charm, and actual genuine hard work, sets himself up as an oil baron. However, despite his financial and business success, Plainview remains a man with little else in his life, and his ruthless actions make him numerous enemies. Things come to a head when Plainview locks horns with the god-fearing Sunday family, whose land Plainview covets, and whose eldest son Eli (Paul Dano) proves to be more than a match for Plainview’s intimidating ways. The film, which also stars Ciarán Hinds, Kevin J. O’Connor and Dillon Freasier, had been the recipient of a huge amount of critical praise, and looks sure to be a major player at the 2007 Academy Awards.

Paul Thomas Anderson has a history of enticing unusual composers to score his movies; his debut, Hard Eight, was scored by singer-songwriter Michael Penn, and his next three featured music by singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion. For There Will Be Blood, Anderson attracted the services of Englishman Jonny Greenwood, a classically trained musician and the composer-in-residence for the BBC, but who is best known to the world as the lead guitarist of the massively successful alternative rock band Radiohead. There Will Be Blood is not Greenwood’s debut score – he wrote the music for the documentary Bodysong in 2003 – but it is certainly his most prominent to date. It’s also one of the most interesting, and challenging scores of 2007. Greenwood won the Radio 3 Listeners’ Award at the 2006 BBC British Composer Awards for his piece “Popcorn Superhet Receiver”, which was inspired by the hugely dissonant “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. It is this piece which There Will Be Blood often resembles.

Written for a decent-sized string orchestra, Greenwood’s music is as vast and empty as the west Texas plains, and (in the right context) just as threatening. The score opens with “Open Spaces”, which accompanies the film’s almost wordless opening sequence, in which deep chords are passed between violins, basses and cellos, with almost subliminal electric guitars and synths playing pedal in the background: themeless, shifting, somehow redolent of the romance of the American west in its orchestration, but also hinting at its dark underbelly. It’s a stark, bleak beginning to a stark, bleak score, which somehow manages to be interesting and complicated while retaining a disquieting sense of intentional soullessness.

“Future Markets” extends firmly into Bernard Herrmann territory, where a cache of buzzing, energetic violins and haphazard pizzicato effects create a sense of scattered, unfocused movement. Bitter pianos and forlorn-sounding brasses make the dour “Prospectors Arrive” a picture of loneliness and isolation, while “Eat Him By His Own Light” and “Stranded the Line” are almost deranged-sounding collages of instruments which result in quite disturbing soundscapes, like classical music gone wrong. Later, “Henry Plainview” swoops and glides through a series of demanding string textures, attacking the listener like a swarm of angry insects; orchestral white noise which penetrates your head and sticks little violin-shaped needles into your brain.

“There Will Be Blood” is one of the score’s most powerful piece, beginning with a series of stabbing string figures which almost defy description; they’re bulbous, cacophonous phrases, which build into an intense finale which is somehow simultaneously – almost impossibly – frenzied and languid. On the other hand, “Proven Lands” is a skittish, almost anarchic piece for spidery pizzicati and slapping percussion which stands totally at odds with the rest of the score, and as such is a hugely noticeable interlude. However, it’s the total absence of any kind of musical warmth in There Will Be Blood is perhaps the single most challenging aspect of the score. Like Plainview’s life, Greenwood’s music is isolated, hard, slightly nihilistic, and never afraid to show its dark side.

Many commentators in the world of mainstream film criticism have mentioned Greenwood’s score in their reviews of the movie. Some say is it little more than musical white noise which overwhelms and overpowers the film in a very negative way. Others say Greenwood’s agitated, edgy textures are a perfect reflection of Daniel Plainview’s descent into madness, and as such fit the film perfectly. Whatever side of the line you fall on, there’s no escaping the fact that There Will Be Blood has stirred up a great deal of interest in the role and purpose of a film score, which has resulted in a number of column inches devotes to the discussion – and this is certainly a good thing.

My own view, ultimately, is that There Will Be Blood is a hugely impressive and articulate score written by a very talented young man, but which is unfortunately very difficult to enjoy as music on its own terms. Whether you can appreciate Greenwood’s style of dissonance will depends solely on your tolerance for impressionistic, difficult, modern music. I personally find it quite fascinating, and although it’s unlikely ever to become one of my ‘relaxation favorites’, it nevertheless remains one of the most interesting and intellectually fulfilling scores of 2007.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Open Spaces (4:00)
  • Future Markets (2:44)
  • Prospectors Arrive (4:40)
  • Eat Him By His Own Light (3:36)
  • Henry Plainview (4:14)
  • There Will Be Blood (2:08)
  • Oil (3:04)
  • Proven Lands (4:49)
  • HW/Hope of New Fields (2:29)
  • Stranded the Line (2:20)
  • Prospectors Quartet (2:56)

Running Time: 33 minutes 05 seconds

Nonesuch Records 369020-2 (2007)

Music composed by Jonny Greenwood. Conducted by Robert Ziegler. Recorded and mixed by Simon Rhodes. Album produced by Jonny Greenwood.

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