Cultural Bulletin
Cultural Bulletin is a quarterly magazine that provides an international view of creative work. We look to film, music, design and art as signifiers of our cultural moment.

In Review: Phantom Thread (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Jonny Greenwood

Record Label: Nonesuch Records


Jonny Greenwood’s Oscar-nominated score for Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film Phantom Thread, co-written by and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, marks the third time the director and composer have worked together. Set in the fashion world of 1950’s London and centred around a fractured and all-consuming relationship between waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps) and dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), the film provides fertile ground for a fascinating score. 

Working with a 60 piece orchestra, Greenwood captures the opulence of the era with a series of elegant and lush pieces dominated largely by layered string sections. The score projects a sense of tradition and order that rather than simply paying homage, as other period dramas might, contains Greenwood’s DNA within it. This can be heard particularly in the high register of the strings, moving from beautified passages before turning into something darker. These moments are reminiscent of Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood which powerfully took the idea of droning and roaring strings to the absolute limit.

At points, the strings are employed suggestively with high register singular melodies that, in their sharpness and winding patterns, evoke the fluency of a needle and thread. Yet, as the high melodies progress throughout the record, they lose their precision and elegance, beginning to slow - suspiciously pondering with neuroticism and dissonance. Other moments seem to capture the flow-point of creative endeavour, which is characterised by pulsating arpeggios and contain a sense of contentment. These moments are only fleeting.

Woodcock is a dysfunctional genius and Greenwood’s score successfully and creatively represents the line between genius and madness as well as the vulnerability that exists in the most ardent of souls. 

As a record in and of itself, Greenwood has added something that stands up to and expands on his canon of work as a composer and has deservedly received an Oscar nomination. It is a record that, like his others, has merit outside the context of the film it has been made for. The score speaks in favour of chasing an ideal (or a phantom) due to the glory held within the quest and the beauty within the prize - it also might serve as a cautionary tale for those who try to fly too close to the sun. It is a record of beauty, bliss, confusion and an irrevocable sadness - a timeless combination. AG