Killers of the Flower Moon is a grand finale for artist Robbie Robertson. The musician, who passed away this year, completed his 11th collaboration with filmmaker Martin Scorsese before his passing. The member of The Band, whose final performance was famously captured by Scorsese, brings both authenticity and a punk western spirit to Killers of the Flower Moon that keeps the movie always barreling forward for over three and a half hours.
It’s a remarkable score.
For Robertson, it was a deeply fulfilling project for a variety of reasons. He spent time growing up on the Six Nations Reserve as part of his mother’s Mohawk community. “I feel that the score is unexpected in many ways and authentic to the heart of the story,” Robertson said of the score. “For me, it’s kind of perfection to be able to go all the way around this big circle. Starting at Six Nations when music came along in my life, and then to my history with Martin Scorsese and all the movies leading up to Killers of the Flower Moon. The fact that we’re getting to do a Western in our own way, you really couldn’t have written this. We’re in awe ourselves that our brotherhood has outlasted everything. We’ve been there, we’ve been through it. I am so proud of both our friendship and our work. They have been a gift in my life.”
Robertson spent time in Oklahoma, listening and studying the music of the Osage Nation. It all brought back memories for the artist. “I was gathering pictures in my head of music I heard as a child at the Six Nations Indian Reserve,” Robertson added, “My relatives were all sitting around with their instruments, and one guy would start a rhythm, and then somebody would start singing a melody to that, and it was just haunting. The feeling of the music beside you like that, humming and droning – the groove and the feel of it got under my skin and it lives there forever.”
Two days after Scorsese finished shooting, it was time to start scoring Killers of the Flower Moon. The composer ended up leaning on a “swarm of guitars,” both attacking and enlivening the senses. “I wanted to build an orchestra of guitar sounds with different variations of the instrument,” Robertson said. “I kept building and building the orchestra and then I tore it down and tried to keep its soul.”
The composer relied on steel strings, dobro, bowed and electric guitars, and on top of all that, native instrumentation and drums for both authenticity and beauty. The result is a rich, audible landscape of two worlds colliding. It’s a subtle clash, though, and a booming sound that Robertson and his team of collaborators handled with grace.
Scorsese wanted a score that was “dangerous, fleshy, and sexy — but dangerous.” The filmmaker knew Robertson — “the essence of cool” — delivered. “It was a theme he gave me all the way through,” Scorsese recently said, “almost like a bolero as the film kind of circles around itself until it finally explodes.”
Killers of the Flower Moon is now playing in theaters.