Soundtrack Review: Phantom Thread
Archie Lockyer reviews Jonny Greenwood’s score for Paul Anderson’s Phantom Thread.
Phantom Thread, the tale of Reynold Woodcock, the perfectionist artist, controlling to the point of obsession dressmaker. And his romantic connection to his bold, daring, conniving muse, Alma is a story beautifully woven with Jonny Greenwood’s lavish, often haunting score.
Phantom Thread simply does not function as the masterpiece it is, without the central cog that is Jonny Greenwood. Greenwood is able to express the melancholic intensity that is felt throughout the film. The use of strings to embody the character of Reynold Woodcock, strongly identifying the character with this high-strung formality. Whilst simultaneously using piano amongst others to show this deep passion and romance and surreal synergy within the film between Woodcock and Alma bringing to life this fascinating, beautiful juxtaposition for the listener.
Yet Greenwood does not stop at merely with this intoxicating combination of the formal with the romantic. Rather, adding this impatient dread into the mix, sudden stops and starts in “Boletus Felleus” and “Never Cursed” add to this hurtling train of tension on the fate of their romance when it comes into conflict with the domineering, exacting artist within Woodcock. To me, Greenwood captures the insanity, the often times bewildering to the outsider connection that the two have, incorporating all facets even the darker elements of Phantom Thread perfectly.
This is further shown through the evolution of the main theme of the film, embodying the evolution of Woodcock from the singular violin reflecting his own self-interest to an entire orchestra showing his newfound devotion and care for Alma. Greenwood does not merely use music to reflect a mood or environment but rather to bring about a catharsis on characters and how they change on screen. Yet Greenwood does not do so in an overt or definite way. Greenwood treats the characters in a very human way purely through the perspective of music, as identified through “Phantom Thread IV”, the final version of the main theme which still incorporates the singular violin suggesting that Woodcock whilst still having this stern orderliness, also contends with this symphony of romance in his life.
Greenwood does not solely use this for the development of Woodcock however. “Alma” fantastically shows the complex nature of the muse as much as the artist, depicting her not as just as this one dimensional being to be “brought to life” by our problematic protagonist. Rather, than merely piano, Greenwood brings in a plethora of different instruments, giving the piece this mysterious sense of complexity. Perhaps this is to suggest this secret that Woodcock sees in Alma, but rather I believe Greenwood is suggesting that Alma is not merely as a muse through the lens of Woodcock, but rather as a character with her own agenda, desires and flaws.
Whilst Greenwood captures the characters, their development and their journey purely through music. This does not stop him from giving us gorgeous pieces such as “House of Woodcock” that exemplify the fashion house’s systematic yet entrancing precision in designing dresses, allowing us to ingratiate ourselves within Woodcock’s sterile world.
Within the conflict that Paul Thomas Anderson creates, between the desire for perfection in a vocation and how this can hinder any relation to other things important in life, most prominently, love. Both romantically and familial. Is a battle that I find permanently enchanting. When we as people watch or write, or design, particularly with a great deal of knowledge on the subject, we tend to forget about other things that are important in our lives. We do not solely revolve around vocations but people. Reynold Woodcock, represents this obsession taken to it’s natural extreme, someone who believes their vocation should be the centre of reality and everyone should merely bend to it’s (or his) whim.
Greenwood successfully captures the essence of this conflict and Woodcock’s inevitable shift through Alma’s intervention with such grace, such subtlety whilst still managing to convey the setting of 1950’s London with such vigour that merely listening to the score brings back visual bliss of Fitzrovia.