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The Neon Demon by Cliff Martinez (Review)

posted Jun 14, 2016, 4:29 PM by Kaya Savas

Cliff Martinez’s aesthetic as a composer is unique and truly special. He never compromised his voice as a storyteller to fit the mold of Hollywood. Instead he found amazing filmmakers to work with whose visions were able to utilize his unique way of scoring. Nicolas Winding Refn found his working companion in Cliff Martinez when the two worked together on Drive. The film’s popular soundtrack was a hit amongst fans, and Cliff Martinez’s score was a perfect compliment to Refn’s vision. This continued on Only God Forgives, where again the marriage of image and sound seamlessly blended together. Here in The Neon Demon it seems Martinez and Refn have truly accomplished something beyond just memorable. The Neon Demon is one of the most masterful scores Cliff Martinez has ever written, and the sonic palette presented here absorbs you into the vivid imagery of Nicolas winding Refn’s stylish thriller.

What the score does so well is completely paint a sonic world via electronic textures. I found the journey to be a mesmerizing trip down the rabbit hole. Refn gets accused of being eccentric and pretentious, and honestly that seems to be how auteurs are labeled in today’s film industry. I guarantee you, if you are looking for something drastically unique and aesthetically thrilling then Refn is where you can get lost in. It's true, Refn is not for everyone. But if you want something that goes against the grain and you have an open mind. Dive in.

As I said, it’s a crazy trip down the rabbit hole, but the score itself is not "bizarre". The electronic textures are sparse and the notes echo as they fade away into emptiness. I always found Cliff’s music to evoke colors for me, like certain sounds felt cooler or warmer in color. I know there is a name for that, synesthesia. I don't think I have it, I just naturally envision things with music. I asked Cliff about this when I interviewed him for Drive, and he said that the color palette of the cinematography doesn't affect his sound directly. Maybe it’s just because Refn’s color palette’s are so vivid that my mind builds the connection. But here I found myself hearing colors again.

The score presents a sense of innocence at first, there is elegance and beauty. The music is fragile and delicate. Once our main character is thrust into the modeling and fashion world, the score gets a bit more coarse. Then in the final act, the music is a bit more sparse but much darker in tone. The score loses its shape, becomes harder to grasp. It’s unfamiliar and plays with your senses. As a whole, this score has a really deep psychological effect on the listener. Martinez truly found a way to not just make you feel what’s happening on screen, but to experience it.

The Neon Demon is deceptively simple in its approach. There is so much going on in this score, and it’s fascinating. The whole journey is entrancing and captivating, and I willingly let the electronic soundscape take me on its dark and twisted journey. Martinez and Refn are fully in sync here, there is no disconnect from the image and the score. Now, if you don’t like Refn or Martinez, then you won’t enjoy it. But if you embrace Cliff Martinez as an auteur composer and Nicolas Winding Refn as one of the most important modern auteur filmmakers, then you’re gonna dig this score. It’s masterful, it’s exotic, it’s brilliantly captivating. It has flavors of Wendy Carlos that call to mind Kubrick’s masterworks, but it’s truly of Martinez’s unique voice as a composer. The Neon Demon is an amazing accomplishment of sound and image.