Midway through David Byrne’s Meltdown at the Royal Festival Hall in London - a festival that has seen performances ranging from the likes of doom titans Sunn 0))) to the electronic bleeping of Matthew Herbert, via the bombast and opera of Anna Calvi - perma-dishevelled Radiohead polymath, Jonny Greenwood walks onstage with the London Contemporary Orchestra to perform a live soundtrack to a film. The film is 2007s There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson’s horrific document of one psychopath’s obsessive, terrifying journey towards the omphalos of the spewing pipe of black gold in middle America - the oil well.
Alongside Anderson’s meticulous mise-en-scene - a camera scanning across men leaning over maps, steam trains framed in still, symmetrical long-shots out in the desert - the music in There Will Be Blood is integral to the film. Greenwood’s soundtrack is all staccato strings, looming Hitchcockian cello, and the otherworldly whistling of Jonny Greenwood’s ondes Martenot. Without the soundtrack There Will Be Blood would be a bombastic historical drama. With it, it’s a horror film.
It opens with a dialogue-free fifteen minutes as ‘oil man’ Daniel Plainview digs for silver down a mine, hell bent on finding his fortune. He discovers silver ore, but breaks his leg falling down the ladder of the mine as he tries to climb out. Like all horror films villains though, Daniel is relentless, he will never stop. He pulls himself up the ladder, snapped bones scraping against each other to the terrifying swell of violin strings and string plucks, and drags himself to the nearest town. Onstage the strings of the LCO’s fourteen violins heave while Daniel lies on the floor, wincing and scratching a fountain pen over paper, registering his claim. He uses the silver money to set up his first oil well, and as the pipe begins gushing from his first drilling attempt, the orchestra launches into Brahms’ violin concerto in D major. Thus begins the rise of Daniel Plainview.
Two hours into the film and several years later, that gushing oil turns to blood. Plainview is a millionaire recluse, having made his money but lost his mind, drinking whiskey in the private bowling alley in his house. A young acquaintance comes to see him to ask for money. Daniel humiliates him, beats him, then begins smashing his skull with a bowling skittle again and again - the oil that spewed from the earth becoming blood spewing from a human head. The music stops. “I’m finished,” he says to the camera. The film ends and the Brahms concerto begins to play again. The credits roll, and out onstage in the Festival Hall we are treated to virtuoso violinist, Galya Bisengalieva coming front of stage to play lead violin, her bow moving across the instrument like the crackle of lightning on a rod. The first time tonight she played the concerto was when Daniel Plainview founded his first mine. The second time was when he brained a young man with a bowling skittle. Therein lies the title of the film - there will be oil, then there will be blood.