Jonny Greenwood Picks the Paul Thomas Anderson Score He Loves Most — ‘Masterworks’ Exclusive

Jonny Greenwood Picks the Paul Thomas Anderson Score He Loves Most — ‘Masterworks’ Exclusive

Zack Sharf
·4 min read

Jonny Greenwood has composed the original scores for four Paul Thomas Anderson features and counting, nabbing his first Oscar nomination for his celebrated work on “Phantom Thread.” But which track does the “Radiohead” lead guitarist consider his favorite Paul Thomas Anderson music cue? The answer should please fans of “The Master,” Anderson’s 2012 cult drama starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. Greenwood’s pick is the unsettling and dreamlike “Alethia,” a revelation he makes in a brand new interview featured in Adam Nayman’s book, “Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks.”

Publisher Abrams Books touts “Masterworks” as “an illustrated mid-career monograph exploring the 30-year creative journey” of Paul Thomas Anderson. The book features essays on each Anderson feature written by Nayman, a contributing editor to Cinema Scope and the author of “Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together.” Greenwood is one of several Anderson collaborators who took part in interviews for the book along with costume designer Mark Bridges, cinematographer Robert Elswit, producer Joanne Sellar, editor Dylan Tichenor, and “Phantom Thread” actress Vicky Krieps.

The release of “Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks” comes at an exciting time for fans of the director as Anderson is currently shooting his next project, an untitled coming-of-age drama that returns the director to the 1970s San Fernando Valley setting of his breakthrough “Boogie Nights.” MGM is backing the project, which features an ensemble cast that includes Bradley Cooper and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son Cooper.

The following is an excerpt from Jonny Greenwood’s interview as featured in “Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks.” Head over to the Abrams Books’ website to purchase the book.

For me, the score for “Inherent Vice” is closer to the kind of composing you do for Radiohead, both in terms of instrumentation and production. What were you aiming for in terms of the sound of that score?
“Inherent Vice” was hard to get right. Paul never said this, but my impression was that he wanted the music to underline the fact that the story — and [Thomas] Pynchon’s book — despite being a series of jokes, is not just a joke. Otherwise, the emotions are just cartoonish, hence the sincerely romantic music, which isn’t meant to be pastiche at all. Or, not to me: Perhaps he likes it because it is. I did go intentionally pastiche for the asylum scene, but other cues are meant to be straight.

The “Phantom Thread” score is so omnipresent in the film; am I wrong to think that it’s the movie you’ve done with Paul that has the most music?
I’m not sure. There’s a lot, but I remember him having far too much in “There Will Be Blood” and being relieved when he stripped some out.

What was the atmosphere you were hoping to evoke with those surging, recursive piano pieces in “Phantom Thread”?
I just wanted it to be, again, sincere—not arch, or pastiche. Which was easy in a way, because I don’t have the technique to do pastiche. Really, this was as good as I could arrange it — and at the limits of my piano playing — which is why it’s relatively unflowery.

Everyone I’ve talked to about “Phantom Thread” seems to understand how wickedly funny it is: Is there an element of humor in the music?
Well, you should know that whenever you’re in the edit with Paul he is — without exception — laughing throughout. And when we perform the scores live, the audience also laughs a lot, I guess because they know the story and what’s about to happen. But even in “There Will Be Blood,” there’s so much humor there. It’s the main reason I love his films, I sometimes think, because I recognise him in that humor. On one level, “Phantom Thread” is him doing a big piss-take of Englishness, and finding it absurd and amusing. This is cut through with sharp, sincere emotional scenes too, of course.

Do you have a favorite music cue in any of the movies?
I always like “Alethia” from “The Master.” I feel like it captures the whole odd sea-bourne pseudo-religious oddness of that scene.

What does Paul do as a filmmaker that most engages you?
He’s the whole package — scripts, cinematography, storytelling, humor, romance, oddness, and genuity. There’s no one like him: Perhaps there’s people who do the individual skills as well — or better— but no one has the full deck like Paul. I’m glad he’s terrible at playing musical instruments; there’s a job left for me.

Excerpt from the new book Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks by Adam Nayman published by Abrams, on-sale today

Text © 2020 Adam Nayman and Little White Lies

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