There’s a handful of filmmaker/composer partnerships that feel as vital as the art created between the two individuals. Hitchcock/Herrmann, Spielberg/Williams, Burton/Elfman, Anderson/Greenwood, and Refn/Martinez. The latter is the most recent pairings that feels like two long lost creative souls finally coming together to help complete each other’s artistic sentences, metaphorically speaking. I’d seen Bronson before watching Drive, but Drive was the movie that completely blew my mind. Everything about it; from the gritty performances to the cinematography to David Lynch-ian ultra violence to of course Cliff Martinez’ incredible score. There wasn’t really anything I could pick out that bothered me about that movie.
Drive was the first film Martinez would score for Nicolas Winding Refn, and he has scored every film since then. Every score has evolved and added new sonic layers, while still staying true to Martinez’ fairy tale-like feel. He adds elements of electronic music, ambient music, and minimalist composer vibes, while giving each piece the tone of a fever dream on the verge of a nightmare. I’ve been listening to Martinez since his score for Steven Soderbergh’s Kafka. Cliff Martinez approaches scoring in such a unique and personal way. I used to fall asleep with his Kafka Soundtrack playing in the background. I can say very easily he’s one of my absolute favorite modern composers. Besides his work with Refn, his work with Soderbergh is some of the best film work in the last 20 years(if you haven’t listened to Solaris, fix that.)
His latest opus is for Nicolas Winding Refn’s Amazon original series Too Old To Die Young. I believe this may be his greatest musical achievement yet, creating sweeping moments of melodrama with otherworldly soundscapes and the fairy tale, dream-like sequences he’s known for. All of it comes together to world build and props Refn’s most bloated work yet. Martinez makes the series seem far more heavy and essential than it really is.
Just a little side note about Too Old To Die Young. I’m only two episodes in, but that three hour time frame makes it feel far longer. I will post separately about the series, as I don’t know yet how I feel about what I’ve seen so far. Musically, it’s a grand and surreal experience. Martinez has outdone himself.
This score was a monumental job to complete for Cliff Martinez. He had stated in an interview regarding this project that it seemed as if it would never end. Refn just kept filming, so there was more scenes to score. To give you an idea, TOTDY is a 10-part, 13 hour series. That’s a lot of show to score, and it took Martinez a year to complete it. He didn’t buckle, though. He stuck it out and created a score wholly original and unique unto itself.
As with most of Refn’s repertoire, Too Old To Die Young is a mixture of crime noir, surrealism, ultraviolence, and bright colors. And of course bad people doing really bad things. And lots of weird. Martinez gives all the slick shots and bizarre behavior a level of distinguished artistic gravitas it may not deserve to have, but that’s why you hire someone like Cliff Martinez. To up your game.
With this score, Martinez goes for subtle and hallucinatory. He combines electronic elements, stringed instruments, and grandiose piano interludes to give the whole thing a hypnotic, under the influence haze. “Naked Guy Murder” growls with violent anticipation as strings, synth, and ethereal noise create a drugged-up dread.
Welcome to the world of the world of Nicolas Winding Refn.
“Starlight Cinema” percolates with an undercurrent of anticipated violence. Elements of Martinez’ previous scores for Refn are here; an electronic pulse accompanied by dream-like synth. “Larry Was A Family Man” is a beautifully ornamented piece of ambient tones, at first, but quickly brings back the repeating motif we will hear throughout the series and score. “Kill Me Fast and Clean” starts out deceptively quiet, but opens to darker tones as it rolls along. I feel like this is the musical DNA strand of Cliff Martinez’ work. He finds that fine line between subtle nudging and obvious sonic destruction. His use of stringed instruments and ethereal electronics here is absolutely masterful, and the reason he is one of the best mood makers in the film scoring world.
Besides Martinez’ score, there are tracks by Julian Winding(“Summasault”), Goldfrapp(“Ooh La La”), The Leather Nun(“F.F.A.”), and La Alta Sacerdota de la Muerte(“A Girl I Know”), which all serve the narrative well. But the true star here is Martinez.
As with everything that came before it, Too Old To Die Young is a masterful score. It does what a great score is supposed to do, which is serve the material it’s scoring. But more than that, Martinez elevates Refn’s often over-bloated series to levels that on its own doesn’t deserve to reach. In the context of a series, I feel Nicolas Winding Refn may have too much freedom to fill space with just interesting shots that don’t serve the interest of storytelling. But on the other side of the coin, with a 13-hour television series, we get that much more music from Cliff Martinez. How can we complain about that?
8.8 out of 10