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2014/10/19

There Will Be Blood Soundtrack

by Jav Rivera

Soundtracks, for some unfortunate reason, often get ignored. They bring so much to a film, be it an emotion to a scene, a mood to a film's theme, or just an embellishment to some cool visuals. It's safe to say that most decent soundtracks will work alongside a film. But it's rare when one can survive on its own. Jonny Greenwood, of Radiohead, composed some of the most compelling and original music for the film There Will Be Blood. But what makes it so unique?


There Will Be Blood was a drama directed by Paul Thomas Anderson in 2007. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano, the film takes place in the early 1900s and focuses on the Age of Oil. It was nominated for several Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis - won), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography (Robert Elswit - won), Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Editing. Additionally, Greenwood's score was nominated for a Grammy ("Best Score Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media").

The first time I watched the film I wasn't aware of the soundtrack's composer, despite being a huge fan of Radiohead. But the score definitely stood out. Something felt awkward and eerie. I Googled the soundtrack and was pleasantly surprised that it was Greenwood. I was unaware that he had scored another film (Bodysong). I immediately bought the soundtrack, but not just because of Greenwood. The music stuck with me. There was something truly odd about it. A few days later it hit me what made it unsettling. Greenwood's score sounded more like music for a horror film than a drama. If you were to listen to it away from the visuals, you could easily visualize a Hitchcock-type of film.


The track, "Future Markets," especially gives this impression of horror. Even the more calm track "Open Spaces" creates a feeling of seclusion and fear. To stream samples of the music, visit iTunes: www.itunes.apple.com

While researching for this article, I came upon a quote from Greenwood stating, "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."

Reading that made perfect sense to the film's soundtrack. Anderson is not a stereotypical director and often tells stories through the eyes of unsettling characters with major personality defects. There Will Be Blood is no exception. Daniel Day-Lewis' character, Daniel Plainview, is both charming and frightening. If not for his son, H.W., (played by Dillon Freasier), it would be hard to care about Plainview's story. But it's intriguing nonetheless, as is the film's score.

Jonny Greenwood
Greenwood's work is a great example of using contrasting music. Most composers would share similar emotions during a scene. This soundtrack, on the other hand, uses the main character's mind as guidance for its tone. Daniel Plainview is a heartless, cynical, and greedy man. The music is basically Plainview's pulse and thoughts.

There are so many film composers that I adore and so many soundtracks that I've collected. Greenwood's work for There Will Be Blood is easily among the top five in my collection. For more information on Greenwood's solo work, visit: www.nonesuch.com

What are your favorite soundtracks?

TRIVIA: Greenwood had doubts about scoring the film and nearly backed out. Director Paul Thomas Anderson's enthusiasm for the film convinced the him to stay on the project.

2014/10/12

Villains

by Dave Gourdoux

October is the month of  Halloween, when we are supposed to embrace our dark side, the holiday where we are encouraged to scare the wits out of one another. It got me thinking about who some of the scariest characters in the history of film are, and I started combing through the horror movies I'm familiar with, when I realized that limiting myself to the horror genre would eliminate many of the scariest performances I've ever seen. In other words, it isn't just horror movies that have monsters in them. Any genre can have a hero, and any genre can have a villain.

What makes a great villain?  Sometimes subtle, sometimes slimy, sometimes unexpected, all villains have to, at some point, accept and embrace evil. The only rule that applies in creating a great villain is that they have to be formidable and substantive in some recognizable way. They have to provide a worthy challenge to the hero.  When they don't, it's yawning time.

There are many types of villains. In some, it is the presence of pure evil in what appears to be normal and good people. In these villains the evil is more frightening when you realize what these otherwise normal people are capable of.

Then there is the villain who is superior in physicality and intellect but is missing any shred of goodness. These villains are frightening because of their ability to dominate all that is good.

Evil isn't evil unless there is good to contrast against, and most great villains need a great hero. This isn't to say that good always triumphs over evil; how boring would it be if that were always the case? Some of the greatest villains in movie history never get their comeuppance, and some even triumph in the end.  A test of a great villain, and a great story, is that the question of which will triumph, hero or villain, is in doubt until the end.

Some of the best villains are those that represent an unresolved dark side of the hero. It's as if the hero stands in front of a mirror and sees his deepest and darkest fears reflected back.

The best villains tell us something about the heroes, and something about ourselves. Sometimes it's just as important that we're reminded of who we don't want to be as who we aspire to, and to recognize that, as John Huston says in Chinatown, "in the right time and the right place" we are "capable of anything."

Here are 15 of the scariest villains in movie history:

15.  John Huston as Noah Cross in Chinatown (1975, Polanski)



Noah Cross's evil in Chinatown is the evil of a deranged man with great power, a man without a moral compass, a man who has no concept of, or regard for, the pain and suffering his actions inflict. Played by John Huston, Noah Cross is representative of an institutional evil that endures.

14.  Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate (1962, Frankenheimer)



Angela Lansbury's performance in The Manchurian Candidate is chilling, and her Mrs. Iselin is easily the worst mother in all of movie history, making even Faye Dunaway's performance as Joan Crawford in Mommie, Dearest tame in comparison. Set in the Cold War, her scheming and manipulating are even more relevant and recognizable in today's political landscape, as parties like the Koch brothers and the Tea Partiers put up candidates like Ted Cruz in an attempt to push through their own agendas.

13.  Henry Fonda as Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, Leone)



Never has casting against type worked as well as in Once Upon a Time in the West.  Henry Fonda, one of the most beloved and iconic figures in movie history, who gave such memorable performances as legendary American characters like Abraham Lincoln, Tom Joad , and Wyatt Earp; who represented heroic decency and reason in films like The Ox Bow Incident and Twelve Angry Men, is cast as the psychotic Frank, whose evil is the catalyst that sets in motion the events in Sergio Leone's classic western epic. Fonda's performance portrays a complete lack of humanity, and is testimony to his range as an actor.

12.  Kathleen Byron as Sister Ruth in Black Narcissus (1947, Powell - Pressburger)



Black Narcissus is an underrated masterpiece.  With erotic overtures, it tells the story of a doomed missionary convent in the remote mountains of the Himalayans. The exotic locale and the presence of the British agent Mr. Dean (played by David Farrar) trigger romantic and sensual memories of a failed love affair in the mother superior's (played by Deborah Kerr) past, and they cause intense and violent emotions of lust and jealousy in Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron). Sister Ruth's evil becomes the manifestation of Kerr's forbidden feelings of lust and longing, and never before or since has the representation of a character's true nature been as formidable or frightening.

11.  Robert Walker as Bruno Anthony in Strangers on a Train (1951, Hitchcock)



The first of three Hitchcock films to be represented on this list, Strangers on a Train is a triumph for Walker, whose psychotic Bruno seems to be intellectually far superior to the relatively slow-witted tennis player Guy (played with wide-eyed "innocence"by Farley Granger).  What is fascinating about the film is the way Hitchcock plays with the theme of doubles, and Bruno can be seen as the manifestation of Guy's dark side.  Like the relationship between Sister Ruth and Deborah Kerr in Black Narcissus, Bruno represents the personification of Guy's inner demons.  The evil in both Sister Ruth and Bruno is made darker by the recognition that it exists in the hearts of the good characters.

10.  Glenn Close as Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction (1987, Lyne)



The movie that was a nightmare for any married man who ever fantasized about having an extramarital affair.  Again, the evil that Glenn Close so wonderfully articulates springs from an imperfection in the hero. How much can we sympathize with the Michael Douglas character when it was his own careless and immoral behavior that created Close's evil? The genius of Fatal Attraction is the horror of recognizing the evil that our own selfish actions can unleash.

9.  Robert DeNiro as Max Cady in Cape Fear (1991, Scorsese)



With Cape Fear, we continue with the theme that the careless acts of otherwise good people can set in motion unspeakable evil.  Nick Nolte plays a lawyer who, early in his career, was assigned as a public defender for a man's horrific rape and battery of a young woman.  Repulsed by his client, Nolte buried key evidence that may have gotten him off.  The accused man, Max Cady (played brilliantly by DeNiro), spends his time in jail plotting revenge against Nolte.  Scorsese presents Cady as Nietzsche's Superman, and uses him as a vehicle to explore Scorsese's frequent themes of Catholicism. Cady is making Nolte repent for his sins, for his failed faith, expressed by Nolte's repeated attempts to violate his legal ethics by taking shortcuts in the law.  Finally Nolte is left to defend himself and his family in a prolonged one-on-one struggle with DeNiro, his redemption at stake.  As in Fatal Attraction, the evil is unleashed by the careless behavior of the hero, and as in Strangers on a Train, the film is really about the flawed hero's struggle with his own internal demons.

8.  Orson Welles as Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949, Reed)



Carol Reed's The Third Man is quite simply one of the greatest films ever made.  It tells the story of the simple American writer Holly Martins, played by Joseph Cotten, out of his element in post World War II Vienna.  It gives a glimpse into a world that's seldom been portrayed in a main stream film, and Cotten isn't prepared for its destruction and corruption. Cotten is in Vienna looking for his childhood friend, Harry Lime. Upon his arrival he learns that Lime is dead, having been killed just days before.  Untrustful of the British authorities in charge of the investigation, Cotten stumbles and bumbles in his own investigation until he learns that Lime is in fact alive, and that he has become the embodiment of unspeakable evil, trading diluted penicillin on the black market.  By the time he meets up with Lime he wishes Lime was dead. Welles plays Lime with menacing sophistication, writing off his evil deeds with brutally cold logic. Cotten, simple and unassuming, seems overmatched by Lime. It's another example of the villain who has seen the world clearly for all of its corrupt decay, and has embraced the dark side. The power of Lime's evil is in his knowledge of how corrupt and evil the world really is, his ability to see the dark reality that simple and good people like Cotten cannot conceive of until confronted by it.

7.  Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men (2007, Ethan and Joel Coen)



Few characters have ever been as purely evil as Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh in the Coen brothers' adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel No Country for Old Men. The character of Chigurh is pure existentialism; he is a killer who quite literally leaves many of his victims' fates up to chance. This is the central question the film asks: does life have any meaning or is it all random chance and chaos?

6.  Robert Mitchum as Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter (1955, Laughton)



The only film directed by the great screen actor Charles Laughton, Night of the Hunter is a stylized fable about good versus evil.  The good is represented by two innocent children who have knowledge of a secret; Mitchum is a fake preacher turned serial killer who suspects the children know the secret and will stop at nothing to get it out of them.  Much of Mitchum's power is derived from the fact that for much of the film, only the children can sense his evil, while he manipulates and uses most of the unsuspecting adults. Mitchum's performance is menacing, as Laughton contrasts his imposing physicality to the slight and vulnerable children.

5.  Joseph Cotten as Charlie Oakley in Shadow of a Doubt (1943, Hitchcock)


Released in 1943, Shadow of a Doubt is Alfred Hitchcock's earliest masterpiece.  It remained one of his own favorites for the rest of his life. Casting the normally likable and gentlemanly Joseph Cotten as a serial killer of widows, and the perpetually sweet and innocent and pretty Teresa Wright as his bored and innocent niece, who has always adored her uncle, the film becomes an essay on the nature of evil.  Written by the great American playwright Thornton Wilder, who celebrated the classic American small town in his play, "Our Town", Shadow of a Doubt lifts the cover off of that small town and reveals the monsters that are hidden there.  Unspeakable evil can exist just beneath the surface facade of affable charm, whether it's in the stereotypically sweet and simple town or under the easy-going likeability of Cotten's portrayal of Uncle Charlie. Hitchcock uses Wright, who was always cast (often times annoyingly so) as the pretty and sweet girl next door, to great effect.  Her naivete and innocence are shattered when she begins to learn the truth about Charlie.  Charlie is pure nihilism, his evil made darker by the contrast to the every day good guy everyone assumes he is.  He is sick and prone to psychosis, as when he delivers this icy monologue at dinner one night:

"The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands, dead, husbands who've spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. And then they die and leave their money to their wives, their silly wives. And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels, every day by the thousands, drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at bridge, playing all day and all night, smelling of money, proud of their jewelry but of nothing else, horrible, faded, fat, greedy women... Are they human or are they fat, wheezing animals, hmm? And what happens to animals when they get too fat and too old?"

4.  Laurence Olivier as Dr. Christian Szell in Marathon Man (1976, Schlesinger)



"Is it safe?"  These three simple words, put into the hands of the great actor Laurence Olivier, still send a chill down everyone's spine who's ever seen this often overlooked thriller directed by John Schlesinger.  The character of Dr. Szell combines two of our most feared icons: Nazis and dentists. There is nothing more frightening than the concept of an evil dentist, and the scene where Olivier tortures Dustin Hoffman is one of the most intensely disturbing scenes ever put on film.  Why? Because we've all been to the dentist, and we've all wondered at some point if our dentist isn't a closet sadist.

3.  Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet (1986, Lynch)



Nobody does a nightmare like David Lynch, and nobody plays sick and twisted evil like Dennis Hopper. Blue Velvet, like Shadow of a Doubt, takes place in a picturesque small town that exudes warmth and innocence under the bright daylight.  At night, though, that facade fades and is replaced by a nightmare of dark depravity.  Lynch's genius is in making this dark, surreal world and the deviates who inhabit it feel more real than the bucolic daytime. The embodiment of this dark nightmare is Hopper's portrayal of the demented Frank Booth and several scenes that are so disturbing that you can't help but squirm watching them.

2.  Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho (1960, Hitchcock)



Made in 1960, while Hollywood was still under the rule of the production code, Psycho shattered all of the rules of filmmaking and storytelling.  The main rule it broke was that it killed off the star, Janet Leigh, less than a half hour into the film, in the famous shower scene.  The shower scene remains memorable for its shocking brutality, yet if you look close, you never see the knife actually touching Leigh.  All the terror is the result of editing, and the stark black and white cinematography, and Bernard Hermann's memorable score.  Psycho is a technical tour de force, with Hitchcock's virtuosity behind the camera more fully realized than ever before.  Yet for all its technical wizardry, Psycho is Hitchcock's greatest film because it is his most personal.  All of his themes come to a head in Psycho, including the dominating mother figure, the icy but sensual blonde woman, and themes of voyeurism and life versus art are all fully portrayed and examined.  The embodiment of Hitchcock's inner demons is Anthony Perkins' legendary performance as the split and conflicted Norman Bates.  It's testimony to Hitchcock's genius that although Psycho has become the single most influential and most ripped off movie in history, it remains the greatest horror film ever made, and loses none of its impact now, more than fifty years after it was made.

1.  Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991, Demme)



Smarter than everyone else, and physically imposing, Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lector's evil is matched only by Jodie Foster's good. Their scenes together become the ultimate battle of good vs evil, yet evil helps good triumph in the end. Though we never lose respect for Foster's humanity, we end up cheering Hannibal's escape from the moronic and incompetent psychiatric staff and security. The film depends upon the audience's investment in Lecter - it's similar to the way Kubrick gets us rooting for the Malcolm McDowell character in A Clockwork Orange.  Foster ends up respecting the purity of Lecter's evil, and vice versa.  We see Lecter's respect for Foster, and it makes us admire Foster all the more - in her goodness, she has won the respect of the ultimate evil. It's this healthy respect between good and evil, and the knowledge that one can't exist without the other, that is at the heart of Silence of the Lambs.

Who would you choose as the best villain?