Licorice Pizza: a deep dive into its superb soundtracks
The hits of Bowie, Nina Simone, and Wings – along with Jonny Greenwood’s score – spawned another classic PTA soundtrack.
The expertly curated period soundtrack of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 70s comedy-drama, Licorice Pizza, is the latest example of the cult writer-director’s masterful use of music, who truly first broke with his landmark second release, The Porn Industry Epic of 1997, Boogie evenings.
Musically also, one of the two protagonists of the film is Alana Haim of the superb pop-rock band from LA Haim, with whom Anderson has a long association, having produced many of their videos including “Right Now”, ” Summer Girl ‘and’ The Steps’.
Haim is in the running for an Oscar name for her role in Licorice Pizza in the role of Alana Kane, an assistant photographer who struggles to find her identity, for whom the high school student Gary Valentine – played by Cooper Hoffman, son of the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman, another regular collaborator of Anderson – falls for.
A love letter to the youth of the San Fernando Valley filmmaker, Licorice Pizza Underpins the touching central story with crisp period detail and loving allusions to pop culture, creating an extremely pleasurable immersion in the sunny 70s world of Los Angeles.
Set against the backdrop of the decade-long oil crisis, the film features PTA’s signature comedic flair and several memorable performances, including Sean Penn as grizzled actor Jack Holden; Bradley Cooper as producer of flamboyant real-life films Jon Peters; and Benny Safdie as Joel Wachs, also a true Democratic politician.
Of course, the powerful use of music is key to recreating the vibe of the era. This was evident from the moment the first trailer for the film appeared, propelled as it was by the inspired use of “Life On Mars?” by David Bowie. Without wanting to drop spoilers, the song is masterfully used in Licorice Pizza, as do tracks by Paul McCartney and Wings, The Doors, Nina Simone and more.
Notably, the film also sees Anderson resume his remarkably successful relationship with Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, which has marked all of his films since. There will be blood. When it comes to Gen X alternative rockers with parallel scintillating songwriting careers, you could argue that Greenwood has a Messi / Ronaldo-type rivalry with two-time Oscar winner Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.
Just as Messi recently won a seventh Golden Ball, Greenwood may know his own annus mirabilis – surprisingly, he has no less than three soundtracks vying for an Oscar nomination, with his scores for Pablo Larrain Spencer and Jane Campion’s Tthe power of the dog also in the mix. If his atmospheric orchestral work on Licorice Pizza gets the green light, it would be well deserved.
Finally, to complement the rich musical texture of PTA’s latest installment, the cast of legendary cult artist Tom Waits as director Rich Blau, who oversees a streak of bravery in the film where Penn performs a motorcycle stunt. Waits’ cameo is also a nice nod to one of Anderson’s biggest influences, Robert Altman, the singer previously appearing in the latter’s 1992 epic. Shortcuts, a sprawling tale of LA life that played a major role in shaping the aesthetic of the PTA.
Overall, when it comes to directors who best integrate rock and pop and the surrounding culture, Licorice Pizza shows again that Paul Thomas Anderson is at the forefront.
Licorice pizza is available nationwide in Irish cinemas from January 7the. Watch the trailer below.