When Geniuses Collide: Paul Thomas Anderson and Jonny Greenwood

Cathal Prendergast
Posted November 13, 2012 in Film Features, Music Features

In an age where cinema is dominated by the clutter of uninspired Hollywood fare, from a town overpopulated with sequels and copycats, the term visionary is almost meaningless. Kubrickian in his execution. PTA is one of the last great auteurs; responsible for some of the most challenging and uncompromising films of recent years. Multi-layered and impulsive, his oeuvre has developed in scope but still retains a solitary cinematic vision.

By the same token, Radiohead’s albums have grown grander and more cinematic and scale, so it only makes sense that their effortlessly talented, hiding-behind-his-haircut lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood would become a runaway and begin a foray into film score composing. His previous collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson for Best Picture-nominated There Will Be Blood garnered rave reviews but was ruled ineligible for the Oscars because it used previously published compositions. Equal parts brooding and frenetic, the score acts as a palette for the emotions that the staunch and corrupted Daniel Plainview simply cannot express.

Released on Friday, the second collaboration of this director-composer team, The Master concerns a religious faith leader, played by PTA regular Philip Seymour Hoffman (at his Oscar-baiting best, if the trailer is anything to go by), and a volatile drifter (Joaquin Phoenix; the last great punk actor) who becomes his protégé/guinea pig.

Drifting from the sinister galleys of Able-Bodied Seamen to the almost Disney-like dreamscapes of Alethia, the score is ominous and foreboding; a visually suggestive amalgamation of sounds. In less than fifty minutes, Greenwood runs the gamut from serenity to disquiet to tranquillity to agitation. While hypnotic even as a standalone piece, I’d wager the soundtrack will be almost brainwash-inducing when combined with PTA’s overwhelming magnitude. Adding to the scores evocative haunting, vocals from sirens of days gone by including Ella Fitzgerald and Helen Forrest are spliced throughout- though these inclusions may prove Greenwood’s second self-administered shot in the foot and result in another snubbing from the Academy’s strict ‘no use of pre-existing material’ policy. Let’s hope those wizened old cynics have lightened up a smidge. Go see the film. Listen to the soundtrack. Be entranced by the eerily dreamlike craftsmanship of The Master(s).


The Master is on general release from November 16th.

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