Friday, February 01, 2008

There Will Be Blood Review, Part 1, The Score: There Will Be Bartok

I am so torn about the score for There Will be Blood. Half the time I was ticked off because once again, a film composer (Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead in this case,) rips the stylings of some of the world’s greatest 20th century composers, and once again, everyone thinks that this particular film composer came up with these revolutionary sounds. Reading the iTunes comments, you'd think that 1930-1970 never happened in composition. It really sounds nitpicky, maybe a little snobbish, but just think of it this way... Let's say, you love the Beatles, and suddenly, a composer comes along and mimics the Beatles and everyone thinks the mimicker is sooooo original. "Oh my gosh, did you hear the Roaches??? What and amazing song! Who would have thunk to write an album based on some guy named Sgt. Paprika's Lonely Hearts Club??? Just so original."

ON THE OTHERHAND, the actual scoring of the film was breathtaking. It is one of the most effective and heart-pounding scores ever written. I couldn't help but love every blasted moment of that wonderful mimicry/original music. It was like hearing an amazing cover band. (I can't believe I just said that about Jonny Greenwood.) The mimicry was somtimes so good and so severe, I had a hard time discerning whether the music was straight-up Messiaen, Bartok or original music. (Which is a real accomplishment.) For instance, "Proven Lands" was FILLED with Bartok's orchestrations and harmonic language. (Harsh plucking of the strings, slapping the strings with the violin bow, all under a pizzicato-plucked string- melody utilizing the octatonic scale. See: Anything Bartok wrote.) Also, the opening glissandos in the strings... STRAIGHT OUT of Penderecki's Threnody for Victims of Hiroshima. And I mean STRAIGHT. I actually turned to Amber and said: "Hey, that's Penderecki!... wait, no, it's not. No, maybe... no... wait... huh?"

A part of me wonders why the Director didn't use the original guys instead of hiring someone and paying them a gillion bucks to mimic music that already has a zillion good recordings ready to paste. After all, Stanley Kubrick was famous for cutting his films around the score. Bartok's Music for Strings Percussion and Celeste is mesmerizing in the Shining. I think Bartok would have LOVED Kubrick's treatment.

So, while it really ticks me off that Greenwood mimicked the compositional stylings of Penderecki, Ligeti, Bartok, and Messiaen, I LOVED his placement of the actual music itself. No doubt about it, it was some of the best mimicry I've ever heard.

Lastly, I don't mind some mimicry in film scoring. However, I still want to hear an individual voice. John Williams does this. So did the late Goldstein. Greenwood... not so much. But still good! See how I'm torn here folks?

In the end, I believe this is why Greenwood didn't get the nod for the Academy. And because the score was declared ineligible for an Academy Award nomination under a rule that prohibited "scores diluted by the use of tracked themes or other pre-existing music."

Believe it or not, originality is something they look for. Which is a bizzare thing to say about someone in Radiohead. Radiohead is one of the few bands to make a dent in the high-falluten "art-world," mostly because they are cutting edge. Here, Greenwood is 40 years behind the times, and more striking- stylistically unoriginal. At the same time, if he would add a bit to it, maybe a change in orchestration, he would fit right in with the post-modern school of composition.

Also, really cool placement of the Brahms Violin concerto, except for on HORRIBLE cut that neutered the ending of the last movement to one of my favorite works for the violin and orchestra. This is where the director could have added 15 seconds of shooting, or credits and saved the score from such hackery.

(After I wrote the above, I read that Greenwood loves the Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony, a MASSIVE an obscure work of Messiaen. I also read that he obsessed over Messiaen in his teens. I will admit to a healthy obsession to Oliver Messiaen myself. Specifically, the Turangalila Symphony. I will also admit, it is hard to listen to Messiaen and not imitate him. I've had a healthy dose of Messiaen-imitation accusatons as well, by composers who knew Messiaen. Yikes. Talk about squirming.)

Btw, Messiaen is a nightmarish name to spell, for a man with dyslexia, during his doctoral comp's.


Vitamin Z said...

I can't wait to see the movie. I don't claim to know much about classical music at all, but what is your take on Arvo Part? I think his stuff is some of the most beautiful that I have heard in that genre. Te Deum and De Pacem are great records.

Seth Ward said...

Beautiful stuff. Part is extremely tonal, and has a wider appeal than even John Adams. I liked the way Greenwood incorporated the Part piece for violin and piano. That was nice. Part has a unique voice along with the other two composers who compose in a similar style: Henryk Górecki and John Tavener. they essentially invented within minimalism. Part is most famous for those choral works you mentioned and that piece he wrote for Benjamin Britten. (Not too familiar with the ones you mentioned but I've heard them in concert.)

If you like those, you should also listen to Henryk Górecki's 3rd symphony.

However, for my tastes, as far as anything choral goes... These guys are great, but nothing written in this century is more chorally beautiful than the Rachmaninoff Vespers. (Robert Shaw Choral singing.)

Also, thank you, thank you, thank you for introducing me to "Cletis Take the Wheel." It made my week.

Vitamin Z said...

Hook me up with the recording you recommend of Henryk Górecki's 3rd symphony and I'll buy it.

Detuned said...

I just saw that movie. It was EXCELLENT. I'm still largely unfamiliar with all of the artists you talked about, but I have heard a little Bartok and some Messaien here and there (though I know a lot of trivia about Messaien due to a short love affair with the Ondes Martenot), and it was enough to understand what you were talking about. The movie, though, was excellent. Awe inspiring, almost.

Seth Ward said...

The Dawn Upshaw recording of the Górecki is my favorite and the best, from what I've heard. I think you'd love it!

Detuned, I didn't know that about Ondes! Btw, you should listen to Messiaen's Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus. (Twenty adorations of the infant Jesus) Pretty amazing stuff.

Stephen said...

Seth, the Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra with Joanna Kozlowska conducting is my favorite recording of the Górecki 3rd that I've heard. Roy Wooten (Bela Fleck & the Flecktones' Futureman) is the one who introduced me to it, and it is one of my favorite pieces. I think I still listen to it more often than any other classical recording I have. I'll have to check out the Dawn Upshaw recording.

Have you seen the score? It's a fun piece to study.

And, back on topic, I loved "There Will Be Blood". I saw it last week with Andrew Peterson, and I'm going to try to see it again sometime this week so I can write a review of it. Although it didn't knock "No Country for Old Men" out of my number one spot for last year, which I had thought it might.

Seth Ward said...

How cool! I've never seen the 3rd symphony live. I always notice after it has come and gone. Oh well. I saw Roy Wooten and Victor with Bela a few years back. More like 10 years. Sheesh. Anyways, I loved the concert.

Yes, I have seen the score. It's been a while though. The music Library at Baylor was terrific. They had about every score imaginable and if they didn't have it, you could request it and they would get it in a few weeks. They were trying to compete with North Texas and UT Austin, so Baylor gave them a big budget. As far as the recording, the Upshaw was the first, I think. Or the first famous one. I'm sure there have been plenty of great ones made since. I'll check out the Warsaw. Thanks for the suggestion!