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May 29, 2013 3:32 PM
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'Only God Forgives' Composer Cliff Martinez on Reuniting With Nicolas Winding Refn and Why He Doesn't Consider Himself a Cinephile

Cliff Martinez
It might be hard to believe, but this year's Cannes Film Festival marked the first one to host in demand composer Cliff Martinez, whose work with frequent collaborator Steven Soderbergh helped land the then first-time filmmaker the Palme d'Or for his debut "Sex, Lies and Videotape" back in 1989. The former drummer (he played for the Red Hot Chili Peppers among other acts) has since had another film featuring his music, Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive," play on in Competition. This year he made his first Cannes appearance in support of his second project with Refn, the ultra violent revenge saga "Only God Forgives."

READ MORE: Kristin Scott Thomas Talks 'Only God Forgives' at Cannes: 'This kind of film is really not my thing'

Indiewire caught up with Martinez in Cannes at his hotel, located a good distance from the pandemonium of La Croisette, to discuss his first Cannes experience, reuniting with Refn on another Ryan Gosling vehicle, and getting inside the heads of some deranged teens for Harmony Korine and his "Spring Breakers."

Now you first credit was "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," which won the Palme d'Or here, but curiously enough this is your first time at the festival. Why is that? "Drive" also played here.

Well, I think staying at home has brought the films good luck, so this is my first time coming here, and we'll see if that's true, if this will be the first film in competition where I've shown up and it doesn't win anything. I've just been too lazy to get out of the house, and I kind of regret it. I could've kicked myself for not coming to see "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" here, and then next thing is "Drive" and it does great, so I figured it was time to stop being lazy and come here and finally get up and get the Cannes experience.

How has that experience been? The film just premiered last night.

Well, when I first got here I was off a 20-hour flight and I can't sleep on planes, so I think I slept about 20 hours the first day. The second day I got a little bit of a whiff of the spirit of things. And what impressed me was that everybody here seems to treat a popular art form as a fine art form, and they take it very seriously, and that's flattering because I think in Hollywood writing film music is a notch above bricklaying or plumbing, so it's kind of an honor to be in a community that takes film so seriously. And it's been nutty. What strikes me at Cannes is the opulence of wealth. I've seen more Lamborghinis and Ferraris and the most majestic hotels I've ever -- this isn't one of them -- and everyone seems to be like 20-something, like, what gives here?

That's just good surgery you're seeing.

This doesn't make any sense. But then a few people have filled me in on the background and basically most people are here for the parties. A friend of mine estimates that about 10% of the people are actually in the film business, and the rest of the people are here to get shit-faced and fornicate. It's pretty impressive. I hope I have films in competition to give me a reason to come back, because without that I don't know what I would do. I wouldn't get into any screenings. But if you've got a film here, you're treated like Elvis.

James Franco in "Spring Breakers"
Well with that said, would you consider yourself a cinephile? Because just looking over your credits, you've worked with Soderbergh, you've worked with Harmony Korine, [Nicholas Winding] Refn twice, people that I consider auteurs.

No, I'm not. I'm not much of a cinephile. But I do like those types of filmmakers, I do like the Harmonys and Soderberghs and Refns and the filmmakers who have a strong artistic personality. Those are the kind of films I like to watch, those are the kind of directors I like to work with. You know, Nicolas is a filmmaking encyclopedia. His dad has got about a hundred credits to his name or more as a director and editor, his mother I believe is a producer, so he comes from filmmaking royalty; I believe his grandfather was in theater, so he's just been steeped in it. A number of the people I work with are hardboiled cinephiles, I just don't consider myself one of them. I'm just a loyal minion of my directors. 

I'm sure at this point in your career you're no doubt selective of the projects you take on. How do you choose?

Well, it seems like the directors pick me. I'm still not in the position, and I think very few composers are in the position, to pick their films; their films pick them. But because of the way I've been cast in the past, it seems like certain directors and certain types of films come my way, like "Spring Breakers," and "Drive." I'm already the right guy for the job, I'm easy, I say yes to everything for the most part. But the last few years it seems like I've attracted the right kind of films. All of them I got to see, which sometimes that's not always the case. I don't always want to seem like a fussbudget, but I asked to see "Drive" and fell in love with it.

A full cut or just selected scenes?

I saw the whole film, and "Spring Breakers" I believe too I saw the whole film and just fell in love with it.

"Spring Breakers"
With no music?

No, they had a temp score.

I can't imagine that film without music.

I can't imagine trying to edit it without any music. So, they had the concept and the musical style dialed in pretty carefully. It was a lot of my former scores. And it seemed like a pretty good pairing of electronic dance music, the Skrillex stuff, and all this beat-driven music, and then my stuff was kind of for the more interior psychological things. So I just thought, well not only is it a great film, but they seem to have someone like me in mind for the music. So, I guess it's the film, and the director. I remember I read the script for "Spring Breakers," and it felt like it was about four pages long. There's not much to it. I thought, that wasn't very interesting. And then I met Harmony and he is really interesting. He came over to the house and we really hit it off. And in the interest of being in an honest relationship, I said "Harmony, about this script…" and he goes "Oh, you read the script? Oh, God, no. Forget about that. The film is nothing like the script. Let me show you the movie." And then I saw the film and it was love at first frame. So I think that's what it is: it's a combination of people that you work with and the film, and perhaps, I like to work with a lot of new directors, but if the directer has any kind of a history, like Robert Redford, you just go "Yeah, of course. I'd love to work with a director like that."

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5 Comments

  • Bananaoomarang | July 17, 2013 4:48 PMReply

    I swear Soderbergh retires every other year....

  • Slasher Flick | May 30, 2013 12:26 PMReply

    Dude used to be in the Chi Peps. I like him.

  • Brian D | May 30, 2013 10:35 AMReply

    Thanks for spoiling the end of "Spring Breakers". Ughhh

  • e | June 12, 2013 8:36 PM

    SERIOUSLY!!! ughhh

  • Tyrannosaurus Max | June 2, 2013 6:22 PM

    sorry dude but if you haven't seen it by now maybe you deserved to have the ending spoiled...