Why The Unsung Hero Of ‘There Will be Blood’ is Jonny Greenwood’s Soundtrack

The musical compositions almost become another character in the film, blending seamlessly into the screenplay
Why The Unsung Hero Of ‘There Will be Blood’ is Jonny Greenwood’s Soundtrack

Much has been written and discussed on Quentin Tarantino's brilliance in using great music and songs to enhance the impact of crucial scenes in his movies, especially the famous 'Ear' scene from Reservoir Dogs (1992). Hence, I've decided to forego the desire of showering my words on the existing heap of praises. In this piece, I'll zero in my focus on his favorite score from Paul Thomas Anderson's Academy Award-winning masterpiece, There Will be Blood (2007), which is a loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!. The film has been scored by British rock band Radiohead's multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, who has become Anderson's frequent collaborator ever since. It is the track called 'Convergence' that kicks in during a pivotal scene of the film, which Tarantino has hailed as one of the great scores of the modern era.

The entire oil derrick explosion scene in the film is arguably one of the best cinematic set-pieces in cinema history, and Greenwood's score plays the catalyst in transmitting the palpable tension from the screen onto the viewer. The tense feeling created by the disjointed beats of various percussion instruments blends perfectly with the on-screen chaos caused by the oil explosion and the ensuing untamable fire. The pace and intensity of the music keep on increasing as Daniel Plainview (Oscar-winning performance by Daniel Day-Lewis) runs away from the fire carrying his semi-unconscious foster son with him. With the string orchestra overlapping the percussion beats occasionally, it's hard not to feel a sense of impending danger. It is beautifully unsettling, and you can almost feel the oil pulsing beneath the ground.

Greenwood's entire soundtrack for the film is string-heavy, and the music was performed, by the BBC Concert Orchestra led by Robert Ziegler, the Emperor Quartet, Caroline Dale (cello), and Michael Dussek (piano). The musical compositions almost become another character in the film, blending seamlessly into the screenplay. From the goosebump-inducing glissandos on "Wide Open Spaces" to the spiraling staccatos on "Future Markets" to the creeping dissonance in "Henry Plainview," Greenwood generates a spooky and dark sound that perfectly captures the  themes of greed and ruthlessness running through the film. "I tried to write to the scenery, and the story rather than specific 'themes' for characters. It's not the kind of narrative that would suit that," Greenwood said of his process for composing the score. After his initial contact with Anderson, Greenwood wrote hours of music for the film; in the end, the duo pared the score back to a tidy 33 minutes, a small portion of which was taken from Greenwood's 2005 BBC-commissioned suite Popcorn Superhet Receiver.

 Although considered to be one of the best motion-picture soundtracks ever, There Will be Blood was ruled ineligible for the Academy Award for the Best Original Score due to its use of pre-existing material. Jonny Greenwood's score was nominated for the Grammy and BAFTA awards and won a Special Artistic Contribution Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. Greenwood would go on to write the scores for Anderson's films The Master (2012), Inherent Vice (2014), and Phantom Thread (2018). Whether it is the foreboding strings in There Will Be Blood or the discordant percussion in The Master, Greenwood's original scores expertly capture Anderson's tones. Theirs is a partnership that will hopefully continue to enchant film and music lovers alike for years to come.

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