Thursday, November 08, 2007
Interview: Entertainment Weekly
Entertainment Weekly, Written By Chris Willman
November 8, 2007
There Will Be Music
''There Will Be Blood'' director Paul Thomas Anderson and composer Jonny Greenwood (a.k.a. Radiohead's guitarist), chat about their unique collaboration on December's historical epic
At or near the top of most cinephiles' list of the most exciting filmmakers working today is Paul Thomas Anderson. Fill in ''music fans'' and ''bands'' in the above construction, and Radiohead is the no-brainer choice to end that sentence. Now, Anderson and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood have teamed up. The director of such landmark films as Boogie Nights and Magnolia enlisted one of the main creative forces behind such landmark albums as OK Computer and Kid A to score the highly anticipated There Will Be Blood (opening Dec. 26). There will be strings... often abrasive, dissonant, disturbing, and always very loud strings.
Blood marks a departure for both mavericks, though maybe even a little more so for Anderson, who'd never done a period piece before tackling this tale of a misanthropic oil man (Daniel Day-Lewis) in California at the turn of the last century. Though it's not widely known, Greenwood is no neophyte to orchestration, having done one film score before (for an experimental documentary called Bodysong), in addition to being commissioned by the BBC to compose a piece called ''Popcorn Superhet Receiver,'' which is excerpted in Blood and helped get him this gig.
If you can't wait for the film to hit theaters at Christmas time, a soundtrack CD on Nonesuch will precede the movie. But if you really, really can't wait, EW got the two collaborators on the phone together, trans-Atlantically, to talk about their collaboration.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Setting aside your new collaboration for a moment, could I ask you both to name a personal favorite of each other's previous work? Jonny, I was specifically wondering if there's anything about the way Paul has used music in his previous movies that stuck out for you. And Paul, do you have a favorite piece by Radiohead?
JONNY GREENWOOD: I'm feeling like I'm on Mr. and Mrs. [an English show equivalent to America's The Newlywed Game]... Punch-Drunk Love had such great music in it. I'm a sucker for pump organ. That was really cool.
PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON: What was the last song on Amnesiac, Jonny, was it ''Life in a Glass House''?
GREENWOOD: The Dixieland one!
ANDERSON: The Dixieland one makes me excited and melancholy and really satisfied every time I hear it. I love that song.
GREENWOOD: That's cool. The guys who played it, they're 84... and we were only supposed to have them there for two hours, and we kept them there all day and most of the night. [Laughs] It was touch and go. But that was a really fun day, recording a band like that. Yeah, I love that song, too.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Paul, you have a dedication at the end of this movie to one of your heroes, Robert Altman. But this is one of your least Altmanesque films. A lot of it is one character out in the desert, with long silences suddenly giving way to screeching strings. It reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey, where Stanley Kubrick had the silence of space and then suddenly ''The Blue Danube'' or one of the more dissonant pieces he used.
ANDERSON: Well, it's so hard to do anything that doesn't owe some kind of debt to what Stanley Kubrick did with music in movies. Inevitably, you're going to end up doing something that he's probably already done before. It can all seem like we're falling behind whatever he came up with. ''Singin' in the Rain'' in Clockwork Orange — that was the first time I became so aware of music in movies. So no matter how hard you try to do something new, you're always following behind. The whole opening 20 minutes was meant to be silent. I always had a dream about trying to make a movie that had no dialogue in it, that was just music and pictures. I still haven't done it yet, but I tried to get close in the beginning.
GREENWOOD: Sometimes Paul would describe the thing as kind of close to the horror-film genre. And we talked about how The Shining had lots of Penderecki and stuff in it. So yeah. I think it was about not necessarily just making period music, which very traditionally you would do. But because they were traditional orchestral sounds, I suppose that's what we hoped was a little unsettling, even though you know all the sounds you're hearing are coming from very old technology. You can just do things with the classical orchestra that do unsettle you, that are sort of slightly wrong, that have some kind of undercurrent that's slightly sinister. Which is what's happening with this film sometimes. Part of what I picked up on and got excited about is that it's the end of the 19th Century. A lot of [things are] just implied, so it's not a horror film in that sense, because people are sort of being polite, but there's a sense of darkness going on at the same time. I love that kind of stuff, when things are unspoken.
ANDERSON: I guess when you have a title like that, the music better be a little bit scary.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The score is extremely in-your-face in this film, as in all of Paul's movies. To love his films is really to go along with his musical choices. It's not like anyone could say, ''I loved the movie but hated the music.'' It's really integral — and loud. And it often stretches across different scenes.
GREENWOOD: You're right, when Paul puts the music in a film, it's very upfront. I realize now that I had an easy ride, really, in that it's the first time I've done anything like it, and I thought a film soundtrack would involve having to hit certain points and then duck out for people to say things, and [each cue] would all be over in exactly 63 seconds, or whatever. But instead, it's three minutes of all music [and no dialogue], to the image, quite often. It's mad, really. I was a bit like a kid in a candy store, in that I was just given free reign to write a lot of music with the film or certain scenes vaguely in mind. So I just wrote and wrote. I thought I'd have to be timing things, and the musicians would all have to play to click tracks. But it was the opposite to that. It felt like a really musical thing to be doing, although I'm sure that's not how it normally is for a soundtrack composer.
ANDERSON: To make a film, the final big collaborator that you have is the composer. Jonny was really one of the first people to see the film. And when he came back with a bunch of music, it actually helped show me what his impression of the film was. Which was terrific, because I had no impression. I had no idea what we were doing. And really, you have so many people that you collaborate with along this whole road of making a film, and you get to the end, and you're kind of face to face with two people really at the end: the editor and the composer. It's like the bottom of the Christmas tree. There's just the three of you standing, holding all of these people's work together, trying to make sense out of it. It was funny, because some of the stuff that Jonny came back with initially didn't make any sense to me at all. And he was smart enough to avoid me for a few days, so that I could let it all settle.
GREENWOOD: That's interesting, what Paul's saying about coming in later. It's a weird position to be in. It's only now I'm kind of realizing how weird that was, to be having fresh opinions about something that's already involved so many people.
ANDERSON: Or that you have the ability to ruin everybody else's good work...
GREENWOOD: Really ruin it! No, I think in the end, it's all right. I think we got away with it.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you ask Jonny to score this film because of his Bodysong score, because of ''Popcorn Superhet Receiver,'' or just from being a Radiohead fan?
ANDERSON: I saw Bodysong at a film festival in Rotterdam on a rainy afternoon. I'd obviously been aware of Jonny's work with Radiohead and tried to follow that as much as I could, and I just fell in love with what he did for that film. It was near while I was about halfway through writing the film, I guess, [that he thought about Greenwood]. Then when I heard ''Popcorn,'' I just loved the sounds of it, and I just couldn't put my finger on what I liked about it. Because I would always hear it when it wasn't on, like a phantom limb, just the strange sounds of it. I had been listening to it over and over again, and then when not listening to it, would feel like I had left the stereo on in the other room or something.
GREENWOOD: That's mad, because that's exactly why I wrote that! That's really weird, that you saw that in it. The whole [conceptual] idea was about when you think there's some music playing, and there isn't. You know, like when you're doing a Hoover or a vacuum cleaner and you think there's a radio playing as well, and you turn it off, but there isn't any music on. That was the starting-off point for that piece, anyway.
ANDERSON: I just saw a report that people are reporting that they feel like their phone is buzzing in their pockets, even though they don't have their phone in their pockets.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did the collaboration go smoothly?
ANDERSON: You know, I'm really not that competent at describing things musically. I think Jonny was probably amazingly patient with hearing some really long winded descriptions of things that made no reference to how you could do it musically.
GREENWOOD: It's funny, I found an early e-mail from Paul, and it just says ''I've got complete trust that what you do is going to be great. Don't worry. I believe it's going to be fine.'' I think I was slowly trying to back out, like a few months ago, thinking, I can't do this. I can't go on with this. It was a combination of [Anderson's reassurance] and just general enthusiasm for the whole project that just made me think it was going to be all right. And when that happens, you just always want to do your best for that person. I'm sure it was very sort of psychological mind games going on, to get me so happy. But it was a really happy time.
ANDERSON: By the same token, I just really wanted to do really right by Jonny, too, wanting to try to protect all these pieces that he made, and find the right use for them. There were some times where I was concerned with it a little too much, because there were so many things that were so wonderful, but just couldn't fit in the film. I was probably more despondent about it than he was.
GREENWOOD: It did feel like a lot of early drafts had too much music in them. But just being in a room full of string players, when they start up, whether it's an 80-piece orchestra or string quartet, is the most addictive sound.
ANDERSON: Just speaking for myself, it is such an intimidating set of circumstances to walk in and see 80 string players sitting there. I mean, I spent the better part of the first day, while incredibly excited, just completely terrified and paranoid. I went over to the corner and felt very out of place. But once I warmed up to it, God, it was thrilling. They were all so generous, too, and very inviting, and once you got to that place where you could actually stand down on the floor and feel not like an imposter but like a cheerleader or supporter and could actually ask for something, it felt great.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Jonny, now that the Radiohead album In Rainbows has gotten out there for people to download and hear, how do you feel the release of the album went? Do you feel like you did the right thing, putting it out that way?
GREENWOOD: Yeah, I'm just glad that everyone's hearing it at the same time — because that was the point, really.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: With all this talk about the radical distribution model for the new Radiohead album, Paul, I wondered if what they did might have inspired you to think that maybe you should just put your new movie up on the web and let people pay whatever they want for it... I'm joking. I think.
ANDERSON: God, I mean, it's every person's dream, I suppose, to have ownership. Unfortunately, to make a film this size, it would be impossible to finance myself. I'd have to come up with something that I could do on a smaller scale so that I could do that. Because you don't get pride of ownership when you make a film. You get pride of authorship. And you get paid for it — that's the switch-off. But movies aren't far behind [music] in falling apart — I mean, the business itself. One of the films that I have the fondest memory of seeing is Gallipoli, because I knew absolutely nothing about it. My brother said, ''Let's go see this movie.'' And I said, ''What's it about?'' He said, ''I'm not going to tell you.'' And I hadn't seen the poster, I hadn't seen a trailer or anything, and it was such an amazing experience. [Talking about the Radiohead release] just made me think of it. To be able to just kind of get something as close to the bone as possible, without too much intrusion...
GREENWOOD: I'm a great one for reading movie reviews in, like, one second, and you think Oh, that's gonna be worth seeing. I don't know, it's like looking at the end of a book before you read it. It's best avoided, really, so you've got no idea what's coming.