Film review – Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2018)

Following the completion of filming for Phantom Thread, Daniel Day-Lewis announced that he would be retiring from acting and that his role as 1950s London high-society dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock would be his final role. This can be considered both a figurative and literal bowing out in style. Oozing elegance and beauty in every aspect, it is an absolute triumph of a film.

The story centres around Woodcock, head of the House of Woodcock, a well-regarded craftsman who is seeing his popularity diminish by the beckoning of new fashion from around the world. He baulks at the word “chic”. He is a meticulous and silent worker, unforgiving of those who have the audacity to interrupt his genius in flow. His obsessive nature flows over to his personality, and those close to him are dictated to by his need for control. His closest ally is his sister Cyril (the brilliant Lesley Manville), who manages his business affairs and the staff and running of the house. Their world is flipped upside-down when a chance encounter leads Reynolds to fall into infatuation with a young waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps), who quickly moves into the house and thus begins her strange relationship with Reynolds.

In 2018, a cinematic year defined by an uprising of oppressed and attacked women finally being given a platform to voice their views on oppressive and controlling men in the film industry, it seems almost perverse that I enjoyed Day-Lewis’s performance so much. I felt at times like he was on the cusp of bursting into tears of laughter, such was the audacity of his character’s actions. In one of the best lines of the film, as shown below, he delivers the cutting “The tea is going out, but the interruption is staying right here with me.” Brilliant.

Jonny Greenwood, one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s most frequent and reliable collaborators, provides the score. It is mesmerising, fitting beautifully with the visuals. In a recent interview with Adam Buxton, Greenwood stated that he wrote it in order for it to be performed along with the film. “I wanted to do it with six or seven players and make it all playable and send out the scores to cinemas and say ‘get some local players to play it live’ and it be a really regular thing. I love the idea of the film arriving and then the book of music arriving and these are the two things you put together and make it quite easy, but Paul kept on asking for bigger and bigger string section sounds to build the romance.” Indeed, this decision was probably the correct one, with the enduring stay-ability of the film benefiting over what could have been simply a nice touch at release. I challenge anyone to find a more perfectly romantic piece of film music this year than ‘House of Woodcock’. [1]

A film that is centred around a celebrated dressmaker almost inevitably has a wonderful display of costumes on show. Mark Bridges is another frequent Anderson collaborator, having worked with him on The Master, Inherent Vice and There Will Be Blood. The costumes here are absolutely stunning, perfectly capturing the essence of 1950s London high society. It is a costumier’s dream of a film, with the intricate efforts of making such beautiful dresses captured in great detail.

The film culminates in a most unlikely ending that absolutely works with the film, underlining the nature of Alma and Reynolds’s relationship to one-another and their desire to stay together. Their dinner table stand-off with a mushroom omelette may not have the intensity of the “I drink your milkshake!” scene in There Will Be Blood, but it swaps intense for tense as the scene plays out. It’s just one of those scenes in cinema that hangs perfectly together. Script, acting, cinematography, lighting, score – everything is just right. A masterclass in filmmaking.

Whilst Day-Lewis may be unlikely to receive an Academy Award for this film, it certainly ranks up there with his most celebrated performances. He is one of this generation’s greatest actors and it is a real loss to the industry that he is walking away. However, it’s a noble decision to leave a profession whilst you’re at the top of your game. He could probably deliver a further three or four top performances, but his decision is clearly based on a balance between his enjoyment of his life as an artist and his enjoyment of his life outside of the industry. If Phantom Thread does prove to ultimately be his final role, then he is definitely leaving us on a high.

[1] Note: Jonny performed an exclusive version of this song on the Adam Buxton podcast (EP.63B, 9th February 2018) alongside a 30-minute interview backstage at the Royal Festival Hall prior to a live performance of the score on 30th January 2018. It’s well worth a listen and can be found here.

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Glastonbury 2017 Day Three: The Pretenders, Glass Animals, Surprise it’s Elbow, Radiohead

A day that had promised sunshine turned out to be disappointingly overcast, leaving the Hot to be created by the acts on stage. Wow, that was a corny start to a blog. Still, we proceed.

The Pretenders supplied a hit-filled set in the late morning opening slot on the Other Stage. A disappointing endeavour to buy breakfast at a stand with a good view from the queue led to a lorry blocking us off from the action for three songs, then the stall running out of eggs just before we ordered. Guys, this is relevant info!Catching almost none of Paul Carrack’s set followed by almost none of the Hot 8 Brass Band’s set reminded us that you can’t get between stages easily. I’m sure both sets were great but we saw neither.


A chance stumbling onto the A Little More Sensation stage in the Circus Field meant we were able to catch the absolutely brilliant Fraser Hooper. It was a silent comedy special with plenty of audience participation, featured a duck, a boxing match and some cracking sound effects. He transfixed a potentially transient audience and was a healthy reminder that there’s plenty going on around the site away from the listed main stages.

There was a genius moment we’re a band of performance artists dressed as seagulls ambushed a fish finger stand. Classic.

First Aid Kit lit up the main stage as a crowd full of people said “Oh I know this one!” ten seconds into each song. Clearly a band I need to check it more in the aftermath of the festival. 

We sadly gave up on Kris Kristofferson after about six songs. It was a real struggle to engage and there were clearly some sound issues that may well have been the performer rather than the sound engineer. Glass Animals were a far better choice!

Watching Mark Lanegan and Angel Olson from the hill on The Park was a great way to relax before the worst kept secret act of the day in the form of Elbow. A great set by a great band, my only reservation is that they seem to have forgotten everything they released prior to The Seldom Seen Kid. If they just did one song from the vastly superior Cast of Thousands I’d be so much happier.

And so it was time for the day’s big headliners, Radiohead. They pulled out a cracking set and I talk in much greater detail here, but in summary it was the standout set of the day for me and one I’ll remember for a long time.

The Trojans took on the Avalon Cafe at midnight and that saw out the night for me. Another big day of music is due tomorrow and I can hardly wait.

Live Music Review – Radiohead, Glastonbury Festival, 23rd June 2017

Setlist:
Daydreaming
Lucky
Ful Stop
Airbag
15 Step
Myxomatosis
Exit Music (for a Film)
Pyramid Song
Everything in Its Right Place
Let Down
Bloom
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Idioteque
You and Whose Army?
There There
Bodysnatchers
Street Spirit (Fade Out)

Encore:1:
No Surprises
Nude
2 + 2 = 5
Paranoid Android
Fake Plastic Trees

Encore 2:
Lotus Flower
Creep
Karma Police

“Bring down the government, they don’t speak for us.” As the lyrics to one of Radiohead’s most commercially famous songs – ‘No Surprises’ – the crowd let out a ginormous cheer. Any doubt that one of Britain’s most critically-celebrated bands had failed to engage the audience were quashed at that moment. It seemed to inflate lead singer Thom Yorke’s confidence. At the end of the song he said, simply, “See you later, Theresa. Just shut the door on your way out.”

A huge laugh from the immeasurably-sized crowd was followed by a louder cheer. Yorke clearly knew his audience and knew a left-wing statement was a safe bet.

But the setlist was anything but a safe bet. 

Confidently appearing on stage to the piano theme from ‘Daydreaming’, they launched into a set made primarily of OK Computer album tracks and singles lifted from their more recent releases. 

It was reassuring to see how many people were able to sing along to the likes of ‘Bloom’, ‘Weird Fishes’ and ‘You and Whose Army?”. 
It was only when they launched into ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ did they start to mine what would be considered their more mainstream songs, and the patient crowd were rewarded an eight-song, two-part encore that featured a handful of crowd-pleasers. Or, the most crowd-pleasing Radiohead have ever done. ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, a blasting ‘Paranoid Android’ and an extra crunchy ‘Creep’ ensured the set would live on in memory as one that walked the line between the awkwardly obscure and pleasingly familiar.

It was a great snapshot of one of the greatest bands to grace our planet, and the set is up there with the best, for this crowd member at least.

Glastonbury 2017 Day One: Arrival, Pitching, Fireworks, Sleeping

I’ve arrived at Glastonbury for another year of fun in the sun. The weather is absolutely scorching and the beers I’ve brought with me are still, just about, cold.

Much of my anticipation of the festival has been around two of the headliners: The Foo Fighters and Radiohead. I’m a huge fan of both, with the two of them being in heavy rotation when I was doing my GCSEs and A Levels. It sounds corny to reply with two of the headliners when asked about who I’m most excited about, but it’s an honest answer. They’ve simply been there for me for two decades.

Wednesday is usually about exploring and getting used to the site. A few things feel like they’ve moved around but to be honest I’m not 100% confident on what is where anymore.

The highlight for me was catching a gigantic fireworks display up in the Stone Circle near The Park. It was extensive and the crowd appreciated it. My only draw back was observing that one of the displays was exceptionally close to my camp site and seemed to be the most unwieldy. Fortunately my tent was still there when I got back!

For many, watching the summer soltace sunset at Glastonbury is a rite of passage. For me, I remember people cheering. Unfortunately, I was asleep at the time. Evidently the three-mile walk from car to campsite had taken it out of me.

A perfect start to the festival, though hopefully I’ll last longer tomorrow!

Top ten Radiohead music videos of all time

Radiohead are set to take Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage by storm this weekend, so I thought it would be a great time to give a chronological run through of their greatest music videos. I was able to choose my very personally-opinionated list from an eclectic output, which has never felt like it was conforming to anything like the norm.

Take a look and feel free to challenge me if you think I’ve missed anything.

1. Just (Jamie Thraves, 1995)

Jamie Thraves’s breakthrough announced his work to the world and made him one of the most sought-after music video directors on the planet. He has since contributed some brilliant short films to bands (Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’ and Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’ are amongst his more popular work), though his feature film career remains highly underrated.

It’s worth watching before anyone tells you anything about it. Then you can Google “What does the guy say at the end of Just by Radiohead?”. Then in 22 years’ time you’ll be where I am now.

Utter genius.

2. Street Spirit (Jonathan Glazer, 1996)

Jonathan Glazer’s visually-stunning black and white video for ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ was a masterpiece at the time and it has certainly stood the test of time. The slow frame rate mixed with regular or fast-forward shots creates a really effective result, and if the overall impression doesn’t do it for you then you can at least wonder how it was achieved technically without the use of computer imagery.

3. Paranoid Android (Magnus Carlsson, 1997)

Paranoid Android is an epic saga of a tune that fused three separate crunching progressive rock song and juxtaposed them with some darkly humorous lyrics. It’s essentially Radiohead doing a song like Bohemian Rhapsody but doing everything they can to not do a song like Bohemian Rhapsody.

The video that accompanies it, created by Swedish animator Magnus Carlsson, is just as bizarre. The band were fans of his animated series Robin, and asked him to create a video featuring the character. The dark playfulness of the songs lyrics and composition marries perfectly with the visuals, which could easily trick a young person into thinking it was a regular cartoon. They’d soon see a man with a head foetus poking out of his belly, or a bare-breasted mermaid swimming around.

4. No Surprises (Grant Gee, 1998)

No discussion of Radiohead videos would be complete without mention of the visually iconic ‘No Surprises’ music video. Thom Yorke’s head is slowly submerged in a tank that fills from the bottom, with some subtle slow-motion work causing it to feel even longer to increase the feeling of tension and suffocation. I guarantee the first time everyone saw it they all took a breath as the water was eventually released. Simple but very effective.

Gee was also involved with Radiohead during the infamous OK Computer tour, which almost led to the band breaking up. It was covered in the engrossing feature-length documentary ‘Meeting People is Easy’, released on VHS in 1998.

5. Knives Out (Michel Gondry, 2002)

Michel Gondry’s one-shot video for ‘Knives Out’ feels like a thematic predecessor to ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, Gondry’s 2004 masterpiece that must surely be one of the best films of the decade. Thom Yorke is in a hospital bed next to his partner, played by Emma de Caunes (who later appeared in Gondry’s The Science of Sleep). She’s undergoing some operations but her body is represented by an oversized version of the Operation board game. Thom looks on in a nightmarish panic, underpinned by a feeling of repetition and inability to escape.

The marrying of two of the most creative artists in their respective mediums was inevitably going to lead to greatness and ‘Knives Out’ doesn’t disappoint.

6. There There (Chris Hopewell, 2003)

The first of two Chris Hopewell videos on this list. There There is a stop-motion animated video that features Thom Yorke venturing into a dark forest and encountering some small mice having a dinner party. He steals some magical shoes, gets attacked by some crowd and turns into a tree.

Brilliant.

7. Nude (Adam Buxton and Garth Jennings, 2008)

British comedian/podcaster/beardy cyclist Adam Buxton joined forces with music video and film director Garth Jennings to produce a beautiful and simplistic music video for Radiohead’s ‘Nude’ single.

Each member of the band performs against a black background, filmed in slow motion as the space they inhabit fills up with white feathers.

If it sounds simple, it’s because it is. And it’s wonderful.

8. House of Cards (James Frost, 2008)

No cameras were used in the making of James Frost’s mesmerising video for ‘House of Cards‘. Instead, 3D plotting devices were used to collect, collate and interpret data on the positional relationship between objects.

It’s hard to visualise and harder to forget once you’ve seen it.

9. Lotus Flower (Garth Jennings, 2010)

Because who doesnt want to see a black and white Thom Yorke dancing around like a maniac for five minutes and eight seconds?

10. Burn the Witch (Chris Hopewell, 2016)

One of the best music videos I’ve seen recently was for ‘A Moon Shaped Pool‘ lead single ‘Burn the Witch’. It is, specifically, Trumpton does The Wicker Man. It was created by Chris Hopewell of ‘There There’ fame. Another dark video that belies the cutesy animated façade.