Soundtracks, Soundtracks, Soundtracks: Cliff Martinez (Drive, Solaris, Traffic…)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

There are many things that make a movie what it is. It all starts with a story (according to what every How-To book on screenwriting tells us), there is the director and his crew, there are the actors, who bust their asses to bring a vision to life. Then comes the wonderful world of post-production. What is one result of that? The music. Soundtracks enhance the movie going experience. They can make us cry, they can pump us up, they can make us remember the 80’s. Whether it be a musical band or a composer, soundtracks help our favorite movies stay etched in our mind forever.

Cliff Martinez has received a couple accolades as of late to compliment the impressive career he has carved for himself. Last year Martinez was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as a drummer. He was associated with other rock acts throughout the years such as Captain Beefheart, The Dickies, Lydia Lunch, and the Weirdos. On May 15, 2013 Martinez will be awarded the Richard Kirk award at the BMI Film & Television Awards for his work as a film composer. Martinez has an impressive variety of films on his resume a few of which represent a great working relationship with director Steven Soderbergh. Lend me your ears for some of his best work. Also, look out for Cliff’s second pairing with Nicolas Winding-Refn in this summers Only God Forgives


Cliff Martinez caught the eye of director Nicolas Winding-Refn from all the way back to his first film work in Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Refn supplied Martinez with a list of songs he wanted the man to use as an inspiration for the “retro, 80ish, synthesizer euro-pop” style that he wanted. We saw the finished product, and Cliff delivered in a film that played out like a high-octane, heavily stylized, feature length music video. The track I’ve selected to feature accompanies the intense hammer beat down scene. It captured the sort of cue I appreciate most, slow escalation into some disturbing shit. Cliff was told to portray everything as though it was being told from The Driver’s “perspective” and right from the beginning, when we get a glimpse into how The Driver runs his life…well…mission accomplished. Now bring on Only God Forgives.


I had to re-watch Traffic recently to be able to appreciate it. I watched while I was still in high school and at the time it didn’t cater to my sensibilities, the grainy style in which it was shot and its subject matter was just a bit much for me at the time. Fast forward to the re-watch and I was caught up in everything, and Cliff Martinez nailed the mood of the proceedings and the area in which all of this took place. We disappear into the chaotic world these characters inhabit, the track I’ve chosen to feature here is entitled “West End”, the track hard hitting and somber at the same time just like the film is. This marked Cliff’s second collaboration with director Steven Soderbergh, he followed that up with perhaps his best collaboration with the man in Solaris.


Solaris was an interesting piece of work, a Soderbergh remake of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film about a couple of scientist’s isolation on around a planet called Solaris. That is a perfect way to describe the mood that Cliff was trying to emulate, isolated and incredibly somber. The cue you’re going to hear here is a track that compliments the impressive visuals the film does have, along with the spiraling mental state these characters are going through gradually throughout the film. Critics have described the film as pretty much a straight up psychological character study that happens to take place on a space station, and Martinez composed a score that gets a bit terrifying if I do say so as these characters reflect on their lives and come to some revelations. It’s an underrated piece of work in my opinion.


There are a few cues in Spring Breakers that take me back to Cliff’s work in Drive (just less energetic), and essentially Spring Breakers is also like a drawn out music video. The general public so far has been mixed on Spring Breakers; some thought it was great for what it was some thought it was shit. I haven’t seen the thing in its entirety yet but I have seen a couple clips and I’ll tell you that Martinez nailed the chaotic world these girls have landed themselves in. He really had one thing to convey here, and that was a complete downward spiral for these girls and he delivered that in spades. Since the first trailer Spring Breakers has struck me as a bit of a ridiculous (albeit potentially entertaining) film, that Cliff Martinez had the respect to take seriously and do what he does best.


I thought Contagion was a pretty good film, Martinez did a great job conveying the horror of the situation and the emotional aftermath that would obviously follow a disaster like that. When asked in an interview with Mubi about the emotions Martinez tried to convey, he gave us the following “”I tried to create the sound of anxiety. And at key, strategic moments I tried to use the music to conjure up the sense of tragedy and loss.” Cliff received several rough cuts of the film from Soderbergh accompanied by different types of music, one of which include musical cues from films The French Connection and Marathon Man. He combined several different styles to make the score standout and it worked like a charm. This is one of those films where the music enhances the experience; the disaster came to life thanks to Cliff Martinez.


Source: JoBlo

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