Oscars 1, rockers 0: Jonny Greenwood's 'Blood' soundtrack disqualified

If the Oscars‘ recent history of being friendly to rock musicians had you indulging in some kind of fantasy about seeing Radiohead and Pearl Jam members rubbing elbows on the Academy Awards’ red carpet, you better get over it. Shortly before the nominations were announced yesterday morning, the Academy officially bumped the orchestral There Will Be Blood score, composed by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, from contention; never mind that most Oscar watchers had assumed it would easily be among the top five vote-getters. The decision came down because director Paul Thomas Anderson also used about 15 minutes of a 2006 Greenwood composition (the BBC-commissioned “Popcorn Superhet Receiver”) as well as a number of existing classical pieces — and Oscar disqualifies scores “diluted by… pre-existing music.” (Some refer to this as “the Godfather rule,” ever since Nino Rota’s score for the gangster saga was disqualified because that composer had cannibalized some of his previous work.) But many in the film community who’ve praised Greenwood’s work were disheartened by the ruling, whether or not the music was all-new.

Blake Leyh, music supervisor for The Wire, is among those calling this rejected Blood work a likely trendsetter: “I think that Jonny Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood is going to be very influential,” says Leyh. “One of the reasons why it’s so striking is that it’s very dissonant and yet very emotional, and people aren’t used to doing film scores that way — not in big Hollywood films. We’re going to see a lot more dissonant film score music with strings over the next year. With film music, there are these moments when something hits. It happened with Thomas Newman — he has a very distinctive sound, and he had a couple of scores, particularly The Shawshank Redemption. When that score came out, everyone working in film and music was like, ‘Oh, that’s what film music is supposed to sound like now.’ For three, four years, every score sounded like The Shawshank Redemption. And I think that Jonny’s score for There Will Be Blood is going to have the same kind of effect.” But not if the Oscars have any say in it.

The score for Into the Wild was also deemed ineligible, but voters could have picked any one of Eddie Vedder’s contributions for a best song nomination. They didn’t, even though his “Guaranteed” was not only nominated for but just won the Golden Globe. Maybe the Academy just isn’t into him, but Vedder’s camp has another reason why a nomination may have been difficult. For potential song choices, the studio had to send music-branch voters a video clip of its use in the movie — which initially amounted to several instances of humming, in the main body of the film, followed by an actual sung rendition over the end credits. And some voters may not have gotten past the initial “mmm-mmm-mmm”-ing to know that the tune actually had lyrics. Then again, what chance did even the non-mumbled version really have against Enchanted’s “Happy Working Song,” a deliberately hokey parody of the kind of Disney ditty that used to have a lock on this award?

Blake Leyh, music supervisor for The Wire, is among those calling this rejected Blood work a likely trendsetter: “I think that Jonny Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood is going to be very influential," says Leyh. "One of the reasons why it’s so striking is that it’s very dissonant and yet very emotional, and people aren’t used to doing film scores that way — not in big Hollywood films. We’re going to see a lot more dissonant film score music with strings over the next year. With film music, there are these moments when something hits. It happened with Thomas Newman — he has a very distinctive sound, and he had a couple of scores, particularly The Shawshank Redemption. When that score came out, everyone working in film and music was like, ‘Oh, that’s what film music is supposed to sound like now.’ For three, four years, every score sounded like The Shawshank Redemption. And I think that Jonny’s score for There Will Be Blood is going to have the same kind of effect." But not if the Oscars have any say in it.

The score for Into the Wild was also deemed ineligible, but voters could have picked any one of Eddie Vedder’s contributions for a best song nomination. They didn’t, even though his “Guaranteed” was not only nominated for but just won the Golden Globe. Maybe the Academy just isn’t into him, but Vedder’s camp has another reason why a nomination may have been difficult. For potential song choices, the studio had to send music-branch voters a video clip of its use in the movie — which initially amounted to several instances of humming, in the main body of the film, followed by an actual sung rendition over the end credits. And some voters may not have gotten past the initial “mmm-mmm-mmm”-ing to know that the tune actually had lyrics. Then again, what chance did even the non-mumbled version really have against Enchanted’s “Happy Working Song,” a deliberately hokey parody of the kind of Disney ditty that used to have a lock on this award?

Comments (3 total) Add your comment
  • Mike

    Well said, well said. More and more proof that the Best Original Song and Best Original Score Oscar nomination process need a complete and total overhaul. If Jonny Greenwood’s score and Eddie Vedder’s songs don’t qualify, then what exact merit do these awards have anymore, anyway…

  • Cliff

    Eddie Vedder was robbed. I haven’t seen songs that well suited to a movie since the Graduate.

  • Tara

    I’m disappointed that Jonny was disqualified. He’s a musical genius and I think he deserves the oscar. I was really hoping to see him get all decked out for the ceremony and hear his acceptance speech. It’s all a fantasy, because I don’t think he would have gone to the Oscars if nominated. He never went to the Grammys when Radiohead was nominated.

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