Composer Cliff Martinez Returns to the Small Screen in Nicolas Winding Refn’s New Series
By Luis Linan
With film and television being visual mediums first and foremost, it is easy for the music and score to become audio wallpaper in the background. However, that does not make musical accompaniment an afterthought for filmmakers. Iconic film scores are as recognizable as the biggest pop songs, with the compositions of John Williams and Hans Zimmer included in the list of the collective earworms.
In recent years there has been a shift from composers typically being classically trained to those who have made a name for themselves in pop music. Artists such as Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor (The Social Network) M83’s Anthony Gonzalez (Oblivion) and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood (There Will Be Blood/Phantom Thread) have tried their hand at film scoring to excellent results. However, 20 years ago there was a pop musician who made the crossover to film and television scoring even before those listed above, Cliff Martinez.
Martinez broke into the music industry during the 80’s as a drummer for an eclectic swath of projects including Cali funk-rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers (with whom he is an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), avant-garde icon Captain Beefheart, and punk outfit The Dickies. In the late 80’s he was presented the opportunity to score an episode of Pee Wee’s Playhouse. The tape Martinez made for Pee Wee’s Playhouse made its way to the hands of an, at the time, emerging director named Steven Soderbergh. Soderbergh liked his work and asked him to score his directorial debut, Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Since then Martinez has collaborated extensively with Steven Soderbergh on films such as Solaris; Contagion; and Traffic as well his Cinemax series The Knick. The two most recent projects Martinez has worked on were last year’s black comedy Game Night and the dystopian Hotel Artemis.
Now Martinez is back with another frequent collaborator, Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives, and The Neon Demon), for the Danish director’s new series entitled Too Old To Die Young on Amazon. The score Martinez has crafted for this series features all the elements developed over his career. Sparse synth arrangements with heavy use of delays and reverb on top of attacking, percussive bass lines to create expansive, barren space that is brimming with tense ambiance.
There is an obvious familiarity in how well Martinez matches Refn’s tone and subjects. The director favors slow, panning camerawork with tight close ups leaving plenty of room for score to play up to the psychological aspects of the project. Martinez masterfully creates a palpable sense of paranoia and anxiety in his scores and Too Old To Die Young is no different. There are a couple of enticing touches peppered throughout the score as well. The staccato strings in “Naked Guy Murder” and piano melody in “I Hearby Give You Yaritza” provide a varied sonic pallete. Taken as a whole, the score for Too Old To Die Young features Cliff Martinez showcasing all the skills and tricks he has refined in his 20+ year career of composing.
Listen to the Too Old To Die You Soundtrack on all major streaming platforms.