Having recently re-watched Paul Thomas Anderson’s film There Will Be Blood (2007) I thought I’d take a look back at this film’s unique marriage of sound and image. This 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. Although this was Greenwood’s first feature film score he had previously composed music for an experimental documentary called ‘Bodysong’ and had also been commissioned by the BBC to compose a piece called ‘Popcorn Superhet Receiver’. It was this piece that helped get him this commission an excerpt of which can also be hear excerpted in There Will Be Blood. 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 pre-credit opening sequence to 2001, ‘Atmospheres’ by Gyorgy Ligeti rings out just before apes discover a monolith set in a vast prehistoric landscape, signifing the next step in their evolution. Similarly in the opening of There Will Be Blood, we are presented with the lands of California – lands that hide a resource that signifies the next major step in industrialisation and wealth. Compare Ligeti’s pre-credit opening sequence from 2001 with Greenwood’s track, ‘Henry Plainview’.
Probably the most innovative use of music in the film, 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. Here the score is 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.