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Marc Streitenfeld

'American Gangster' composer

Marc who? It’s a reaction “American Gangster” audiences can be forgiven when encountering the name Marc Streitenfeld, the film’s composer. On a movie this deluxe, employing an unfamiliar composer was a brave step — but not the risk it first appears to be.

“American Gangster” is the Munich-born Streitenfeld’s second film score, and like his first (“A Good Year”) and next (“Body of Lies”), Ridley Scott is the director. Their relationship dates back to “Gladiator” (2000), when Streitenfeld worked for that epic’s composer, Hans Zimmer.

After Streitenfeld moved up the ladder from music editor to music supervisor on four other Scott films, the composer was willing to take the leap on “A Good Year.” “It went smooth,” says Streitenfeld. “I didn’t think about the pressure until afterward.”

Scott soon offered Streitenfeld the much higher-profile “Gangster,” about a drug kingpin’s rise in Harlem circa the late ’60s-early ’70s.

“I used an orchestra of 80 pieces,” the composer says, but also a lot of guitar, solo trumpet and percussion.” And he used traditional instruments in innovative ways, like strings as percussion. He even played an electric violin fresh out of its case. His first take is in the finished score, which is notable because Streitenfeld doesn’t play the violin; the classical guitar is his instrument.

He says he’s not sure he wants to compose for helmers besides Scott, and unlike his mentor Zimmer, Streitenfeld enjoys down time. “In a way, I’m more exited to take time off than go on to the next project,” he says. “So there hasn’t been time to really explore working for other directors. But I have no plans of overloading. I want to completely focus on my projects for Ridley and be fresh for that.”

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