Magnolia felt like the culmination of Anderson’s marriage of music and cinema.
From the ‘70s pop sounds of Boogie Nights to Jonny Greenwood’s riveting original score to Phantom Thread, music has always been a crucial element in the films of director Paul Thomas Anderson. While Anderson has shed some of his youthful cinematic flamboyance for a more measured visual style, so has his use of music developed. No matter the movie, Anderson has exemplified how to make arresting cinema with great music. At the time it was originally released in 2000, Magnolia felt like the culmination of Anderson’s marriage of music and cinema, and a new reissue from Mondo proves that time has not diminished its impact.
In the vein of Francis Ford Coppola’s One from the Heart or Mike Nichols’ The Graduate, Magnolia relied heavily on a single musical voice—in this case, the voice of Aimee Mann—to serve as an emotional anchor to the film. Yet unlike The Graduate, the music spoke not just for the protagonist, but for multiple members of the cast. Furthermore, while Dave Grusin’s effective score took a backseat to Simon and Garfunkel’s songs in the Nichols comedy, and Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle’s romantic duets dominated Coppola’s folly, in Magnolia Mann’s songs and Jon Brion’s score are both meant to stand tall, side by side.
For its vinyl reissue, Mondo presents all of Mann’s songs on one disc and all of Brion’s score on two other discs. Beginning with an apt cover of Harry Nilsson’s “One” (which cribs from other Nilsson hits as well), the Mann-led part of the album includes such career high points as “Wise Up” and “Save Me,” as well as “Deadly,” “Driving Sideways” and “You Do,” which would end up on Bachelor No. 2, her first album on her own label. “Build That Wall,” co-written with Brion, lays bare Mann’s talent for negotiating the emotional vagaries of an anonymous “she” with first-person revelation and more universal appeals to common experiences.
The instrumental “Nothing is Good Enough” does a good job of foreshadowing Brion’s contribution. One of the most orchestrally complex in his film work, the score runs the gamut from ominous woodwinds to inquisitive, persistent strings (whose combination forms the score’s centerpiece, “Showtime”) to swinging brass on the 45-second-long “WDKK Theme.”
An especially pensive, striking piece is “I’ve Got a Surprise for You Today,” which leads nicely into the eleven-minute-long “Stanley/Frank/Linda’s Breakdown,” a whirlwind of call-and-response that invokes a kind of shared-yet-separate turmoil expressed in a fraught dialogue between disconnected voices. The device of multiple characters in a film sharing the same song was not original to Magnolia; it can be seen as early as Rouben Mamoulian’s 1932 musical Love Me Tonight and continues through the late-career musicals of Alain Resnais. But the conceit was perfectly matched for Anderson, Mann and Brion.
With Mann’s songs featuring standard pop-rock instrumentation and Brion’s score comprised of orchestral arrangements, both artists bring a similarly expressive, even lyrical touch to the film, to such an extent that Brion’s music, despite the lack of words, seems to continue the conversation begun by Mann’s lyrics.
The defining salvo of Anderson’s early films may be the extended tracking shot that opens Boogie Nights. Since that youthful exuberance, the director has reached a degree of mastery wherein more subtle camera movements are as expressive as dialogue. Even with Greenwood’s subsequent impressive scores for Anderson, one can almost sense a musical dialogue among characters, a perhaps subconscious echo of Mann and Brion’s work in Magnolia, which resonates nearly 20 years after its release.