If you don’t know what Jane Campion’s movie is The power of the dog is about, here’s a fun experience: try to guess its genre based on the music of Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, the classical music aficionado leader in the world’s most respected rock band. Crafted using an ensemble of piano, strings, winds, brass and more, the soundtrack is quite grand, full of brooding nobility and tormented ecstasy, all in a modernist fashion of a stern beauty. These 16 brief but substantial themes take place on dark, shiny slopes and menacing plains, with each landscape seeming to spill over into the other. Their uncomfortable but graceful unity even occasionally accommodates the starchy old avant-garde explosion. It’s very 20th century and fine and European. Now raise your hand if you think the movie is a western. Person?
The smart thing is that once you know it, you can hear it everywhere in Greenwood’s score: in the galloping track of the acoustic guitar laid across the sharp strings of “25 Years”, in the brass which evokes the call of a harmonica and fall on “Requiem for Phil”, and even in the chromatic strings of “Detuned Mechanical Piano”, which suddenly looks less like Conlon Nancarrow than a mechanical piano which is unleashed in a saloon. Throughout, Greenwood uses the harshest points of the classic cannon to carve canyons and mounds into the hard, treacherous form of a psychological metaphor.
Of course, this is not his first rodeo, in many ways. Greenwood has marked many films, especially for Paul Thomas Anderson. Like that of the latter There will be blood, Campion’s film is also set in the American West as its physical boundaries begin to blur into legend. This score superficially resembles Greenwood’s music for The power of the dog, although it was more cinematic, awe-inspiring, and, yes, stereotypical male.
The power of the dog marks Campion’s return to cinema after 12 years and a stint on prestigious television with Top of the lake, an icy crime drama set in his native New Zealand. While her filmography is cheerfully idiosyncratic, she is particularly known for reviving the romance of Old Hollywood period dramas with a sharp contemporary characterization and with the perks in prospect of not being a cigar gnawing man. She also seems drawn to the stinging tides of humanity that form on the borders of social and nature.
In The piano, Campion’s breakthrough in 1993, a woman with a daughter marries a landowner in a remote part of New Zealand in the mid-19th century. In The power of the dog, a woman with a son marries a rancher in a remote part of Montana at the turn of the 20th century, triggering chaos of feelings in the manly and stunted world he lives in with his brother. Throughout, Greenwood’s music reflects the sensuality and counterintuitive sophistication of Campion’s casting (extra credit if you guess Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead cowboy); he cultivates a constant sense of disturbed introversion through the plosive box-step of âPreludeâ, the copper tendrils of âThe Ravineâ and other tints of wonder and dread.
In a way, Radiohead has always been a postmodern progressive rock band, with a more elegant taste and different technology than their 1970s ancestors, but with a similar interest in introducing Stravinsky and Messiaen into the popular music. Greenwood must be the only artist to have both been the headliner of Coachella and collaborated with Krzysztof Penderecki, the Polish composer whose turbulent tones he often evokes. The power of the dog. When those chills run through the ropes, it can be the cry of veiled coyotes at night or a whimper at the edge where one world ends and another begins. This double image perfectly illustrates Greenwood’s own synthesis of pulp-western musculature and refined symphonic emotion.
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