IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Composer Cliff Martinez Talks 'Only God Forgives' Blu-ray

Monday, 21 October 2013 11:55 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Composer Cliff Martinez Talks 'Only God Forgives' Blu-ray

In my opinion, Drive is not only the best film of the last ten years, but one of the greatest movies of all-time! 

I watched Drive three times in theaters, and I’ve now seen it countless times on DVD, Blu-ray, and Netflix. A big part of what made Drive so brilliant was the music of composer Cliff Martinez. Martinez also composed the music for one of my other favorite movies of all-time, director Steven Soderbergh’s underrated masterpiece The Limey. In fact, a bulk of Martinez’s work has been for Soderbergh on films like Kafka, Traffic, Solaris, and Contagion. He has also composed such films as Pump Up the Volume, Narc, The Lincoln Lawyer, Spring Breakers, and The Company You Keep. But recently, he has collaborated with director Nicolas Winding Refn on Drive, and his latest film Only God Forgives, which is available on Blu-ray beginning October 22nd.

Only God Forgives was written by Refn and follows Julian (Ryan Gosling), a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok's criminal underworld who sees his life get even more complicated when his mother (Kristen Scott Thomas) compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother's (Tom Burke) recent death. In addition to Gosling, Thomas, and Burke, the film also features Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm (The Hangover Part II). 

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Cliff Martinez about his work on Only God Forgives. The accomplished composer discussed the new movie, how it is different than Drive, working with director Nicolas Winding Refn, creating the music for Only God Forgives, why music is so important to filmmaking, and my personal love for Drive!

Here is what composer Cliff Martinez had to say about Only God Forgives:

IAR: To begin with, I have to tell you that Drive is one of my favorite films of all-time. 

Cliff Martinez: Yeah, I’ve heard that from a couple of people. It’s certainly one of my all-time favorites. 

It seems that people who love that movie, REALLY love that movie!

Martinez: I did a Q&A about the film in Austin, Texas earlier this year and I ran into a person that had a Drive tattoo on their leg. So I know that there are some people that are very devoted and hardcore about that film. 

Well, I don’t have any Drive body art but I do watch that movie quite a bit.

Martinez: Well, that is a good. There are not a lot of movies that I will watch more than once, so you sir are hardcore!

Thank you. I enjoyed Only God Forgives a lot as well. It’s another great collaboration between you and director Nicolas Winding Refn. 

Martinez: Yeah, it’s very different. You can get a sense of Nicolas’ style even though it is a radically different film from Drive. It’s much more abstract, linear, and subject to interpretation then Drive. Glad you liked those. Nicolas attracted a wider following with Drive and took a left turn with Only God Forgives

When I spoke to Nicolas Winding Refn while doing press for the theatrical release he described Drive as “being on cocaine” and that Only God Forgives is like an “old school acid trip.” What do you think about his comment?

Martinez: I think Only God Forgives is much more impressionistic and psychedelic. It felt very dream like to me in the way that it looked and moved. Much the way art is subject to the viewer’s own interpretation to a large degree. So in that regard yes, it is pretty psychedelic. It has a very strong visual style that is hallucinogenic. But I can see the acid trip reference to Only God Forgives for sure. 

Can you talk about your working relationship with Nicolas Winding Refn and what you like about collaborating with him on his films?

Martinez: Well, I like working with anyone that has a big imagination as Nicolas does. I think what was great about working on Only God Forgives was that not many directors come to me and say that I want you to do something that doesn’t sound like anything you have ever done before. Most people come to me because they like something that I’ve done before and want me to do something somewhat similar. Then I feel an obligation to repeat myself. But on Only God Forgives, Nicolas said, “What ever you do, don’t make it sound anything like Drive. I really want you to give me something different, something unique, and something unlike anything that you’ve done before. “ So that was really the challenge with Only God Forgives, to reinvent myself completely. I think everyone likes to stretch, do something different, shed his or her artistic skin, and do something fresh. So that was a challenge I enjoyed. 

I understand what you are saying and while the music in Only God Forgives did sound very different from Drive, and obviously had a Thailand influence, it also seemed to have your fingerprints all over it and sounded very much like Cliff Martinez music. Would you agree? 

Martinez: Yeah, it’s impossible to completely step outside yourself and come up with something completely new. So I can’t help but sound like me. I always like the idea of hearing something that’s the same but different and that’s what I think it was. There is a way you can do that. I’ve always thought that if you take an idea from one composer it is plagiarism, but if you take two ideas and put them together then that is original. So really there was a very eclectic blend of role models for Only God Forgives. Nicolas wanted me to use Bernard Herman’s score to the 1951 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and he also referenced John Carpenters Halloween. I was interested in using Goblin, the guys who did the Dario Argento films, as well as the music of Thailand, Phillip Glass (The Truman Show), and Brian Eno (Heat) was in there. So there were a lot of different influences and hopefully that sounded like me. I was listening to a lot of different artists for Only God Forgives

Finally, can you talk about how important music is to the films you’ve made with Nicolas Winding Refn, how it helps set the tone, and is really like another character in the movie?

Martinez: Well that’s is what I always hope the music will be but its not always my choice. In some films the music is afforded a large role, and other times the music is given a minor role. Nicolas is a music freak and it is really important to him. He thinks about the music before he’s even shot the film. Anytime you make a film where the dialogue is very sparse, like it was in Drive, the music seems to become a lot more important. People take their cues from the music a lot more than they do in a dialogue intensive film. Only God Forgives is practically a silent movie. You have three stoic characters in it, so the music really plays a large role in Only God Forgives and that is a great challenge for a composer to have. 

Only God Forgives will be available on Blu-ray beginning October 22nd. 

To watch our exclusive video interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn about Only God Forgives, please click here

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