Not often does a film score stand out as a work of art independent of the movie it embellishes, but there are the rare exceptions. Everyone remembers the zither tune in The Third Man, Howard Shore’s ominous counterpoint clocks in After Hours, or Stanley Kubrick’s counterintuitive needle drops in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Other scores meet the film on a plane in which the photography and music cannot be disentangled: Ryuichi Sakamoto’s title cue for The Last Emperor; Jerry Goldsmith’s recurring, melancholy muted-trumpet line in Chinatown; Philip Glass’s winding synth fractals heard over a time-lapsed New York City in Koyaanisqatsi.
Jonny Greenwood’s score to Phantom Thread—Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie about a maniacally fussy dressmaker named Reynolds Woodcock—is of the latter type. The music has a sinewy, ductile curvature that folds itself into the piles of fabric, weaving its way into the lining as the cloth becomes a dress. The main theme is a tense piece played by a string section in its upper register, where things cease to sound sweet and become eerie and diaphanous. Other cues are full of wide, warm major-ninth chords that flutter around like pastel ribbons. There are voicings that remind one of Bill Evans at his most fragile; instrumental color that brings to mind the Ballet Russes; airy chromaticism à la Miles Davis circa Nefertiti. Solo piano lines pick out patterns in the music like animate glowing lace. All of it is impeccably recorded. It is perverse that it didn’t win the Oscar for best score this year. Read More