Does Loud Equal Music?

From NYT Arts section ads:

"...evokes the masterpieces of silent cinema and Orson Welles' Citizen Kane."

"...bears comparison to the greatest achievements of Griffith and Ford."

God help critics. Citizen Kane!!!!

Some just like so much that the joy blinds 'em. That and their desire to be quoted in hysterical newspaper ads. 'Course the flip side is, there's nothing worse than critics who hate: their job, their salary, what they're supposed to review, themselves. When critics go permanently dark, it ain't pretty.

For proof that critics are just one opinion, just one, worth only that, look no further than the current feeding frenzy surrounding, There Will Be Blood. Sure, it was too scary to win the Oscar, but it's a prime example of the old adage make inscrutable art and the critics will be falling over themselves to call it Citizen Kane.

With one glorious, wondrous exception, that being Boogie Nights, Mr. ex-Fiona Apple, Paul Thomas Anderson, is a friggin' genius; the kind of SoCal low rent genius who favors talky, murky, overlong, one–iota–from–being–too–self–consciously A-R-T-Y films, but a genius all the same.

His new religious experience, which explores the oily greed and smarm between Capitalism and Christianity—now there's a toxic stew perfect for a presidential election season—is undeniably powerful. And very self-consciously weird. It definitely has a car wreck kind of visual pull about it. You can't look away. And any film that opens with 20 minutes where nary a word is spoken, unless grunting counts, gets my respect. Daniel Day Lewis, unforgettable as Bill "The Butcher" Cutting in Gangs of New York, is now officially the A lister for any part that requires madness. And shouting. And a grimy, unwashed form of disgustingness. No one plays human monsters better. Maybe ever. He's damn sure the Citizen Kane of nuts. He deserved his golden statue.

Not surprisingly, the part of the film that snared me the quickest and held my attention the longest was the soundtrack. "In your face," is the only way to describe this mishmash of classical borrowings and percussion experiments "composed" by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood.

Another way to describe it would be "VERY, VERY LOUD!!!"

While having a Radiohead member on board shows what a cool and culturally aware dude Anderson truly is, there's something not quite right here. Before I begin to sneer with both lips, there is nothing inherently wrong with a famous alt rock semi-celeb daring to compose a semi-classical piece of film music. Key words: FILM MUSIC. In track five "Henry Plainview," on the CD release, There Will Be Blood, Original Music by Jonny Greenwood, the swarming bees–like effect is then followed by the title cut and its tightly sawed strings (gee, could he be trying to evoke tension?) followed in "Proven Lands" by another kid–with–a–Casio effect, plucked strings to simulate movement. This ain't Beethoven or even Morricone or Korngold and was never billed as such. Unfortunately, it's also not music strong enough to stand on its own without the visuals, which is the key distinction between music that merely accompanies the film and a great score. As a first time big splash into film music by a rock guitarist, it's just okay.

The real problem I have with the music may not even be Greenwood's at all. Volume alone, Herr Director, does not make musical scores better or more impactful. Some of Greenwood's quieter passages are beautiful in an Aaron Copland sort of way. It's strange that this problem would befall Anderson, a guy who obviously cares about music in his films. The score to Boogie Nights, for example, is a well-paced, well-chosen compilation of '70's soul and funk classics. Here in Greenwood's score, after about the second really loud, rising string modulation, or the next pounding borrowing from Brooklyn boy Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse," (now THERE was a GENIUS!), I understood the idea and wanted to shout out, "I got it, I got it, now turn that fucker DOWN!"

Soundtracks are not meant to be weapons, and yes, I understand that this whole film is one big weapon, but let's think of the old and audio sensitive and make more prudent use of the volume knob next time huh Paul? I was dying for a remote through half the picture.

Of course you have to be grateful for small miracles and so thankfully there are almost no wailing electric guitars. And no speaking of murky geniuses, no Thom Yorke.

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COMMENTS
tomislav's picture

"any film that opens with 20 minutes where nary a word is spoken"; i agree 100% that to many dialog is become a standard in todays cinema. Like we are watching Woody Allen all the time. Also to me, music in TWBB is apsolutely corensponding with scenography. Totaly ascetic and non compromising. Rare occasion that after 10 minutes of the movie i definitly knew that i like it...

JasonB's picture

I think Radiohead and their musicians are highly over-rated. But these days of boring me-too bands make them look relatively good. Who would of thought that kids would still be listening to music (rock/drums/bass/guitars/keys) that their parents and grandparents listened to. Would have been unheard of when I was a kid. I always thought the radiohead musicians were very average - so goes to show that exposed in a soundtrack, they would struggle to impress.

Douglas Bowker's picture

Maybe your theater was too loud? It was forceful for sure when I saw/heard the movie, but not overly so. I enjoyed the counterpoint to the harsh light and extreme dryness of the landscape. It did remind me of some old silent movies- again in a good way. Now you want loud- how about Hans Zimmer's stuff, esp. Gladiator? I think it was deliberate also since the music went way up right before the screen was going to be filled with some choice carnage. But try listening to it on CD--- not so good. Lisa Gerrard's parts were great though.

Dan Coplen's picture

As one who really loves (and bought) the score, I really have to disagree with your assessment. I hear 60's Avant Garde (Penderecki, Ligeti, Messiaen) and touches of Ravel. I think the job of the of a score is to evoke mood, and stay out of the way at other times when silence or other sound elements suffice. I guarantee that many, if not all, of the nominees for this years "best score" will not even be remembered sixth months from now, while Greenwood's is an impossible to forget part about the movie; I'd say that's a sign of a good score.Also, I didn't feel it overused (though,sure, loud); there's a lot of silence in the movie. Really isn't the entire film, in addition to a lot of other things, a study in contrasts (loud/silent, dark/light, and even visual vs. aural)?What's more, many of the films sound effects themselves are loud. Certainly volume /is/ a tool employed here, but it is far from being the only tool. And who would deny a rock show's r

Dan Coplen's picture

(wanted to finish my comment)a rock show's right to use volume as a tool to create effect -- why deny film that right?What's more, I just heard Shostakovitch's score for the Battleship Potemkin (culled together by Russian Musicologists from his various Symphonies in 76) performed live by the Minnesota Orchestra. I /assure/ that a full string orchestra playing Shostakovitch was a lot louder than JG's score in any movie theater? No complained that is was too loud, or that it wasn't music.Though I am sure there were old folks back in the day who did...

penis büyütücü hap's picture

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