DAILY | Tony Scott, 1944 – 2012
The director of TOP GUN and UNSTOPPABLE was 68.
“Tony Scott, the director of such high-octane blockbusters as Top Gun and Days of Thunder, jumped to his death from a Los Angeles bridge on Sunday.” So begins Michael Schwirtz‘s report on the stunning news for the New York Times. Scott, 68, evidently left a suicide note in his office and then jumped “without hesitation” (Scott Bowles, USA Today) from the Vincent Thomas Bridge over Los Angeles Harbor at around 12:30 p.m. “It was not immediately clear what would have driven Mr. Scott to commit suicide…. Anthony David Scott was born in England on June 21, 1944. With his brother, the director Ridley Scott, he ran a production company called Scott Free Productions. Among his most recent work was the 2010 action film Unstoppable, starring Denzel Washington, with whom he often worked.”
Under the editorship of Danny Kasman, MUBI’s Notebook has become a hub of appreciation of Scott’s work over the past few years. Back in November 2010, Christoph Huber of the Ferroni Brigade wrote:
“Oh yeah, Tony Scott—he’s good,” says even Lav Diaz, currently residing in Vienna’s Ferronian headquarters, and further proof rushes into cinemas with Unstoppable (and to home systems with the highly recommended BFI unearthing of his 1970 medium-length feature Loving Memory on DVD/Blu-Ray). Intriguingly, after the delirious triple whammy of Man on Fire, Domino and Déjà vu, Unstoppable now forms a diptych with its minor, but still underrated predecessor The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 of almost straightforward suspense filmmaking: But while the remake of Joseph Sargeant’s still-splendid 1974 New York crime picture The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (together they make a for a great, entertaining double feature lesson about changes of a city and the corresponding zeitgeist mentality) was centered around a train standing still, Unstoppable is predicated on a constant increase of speed. As such, it is both an expertly pared-down exercise in pure orchestration of tension as well as a distillation of pure Tony Scott style—instead of the cubist, postmodern formal explosions of the three earlier crisis zone films (which at times suggested visual companions to the literature of Pynchon and DeLillo, not to mention to avant-garde sensibilities like those of Pat O’Neill), here Scott’s expressionist Action Painting effects serve as punctuations and accentuations of superbly handled, old-school suspense dramaturgy.
The Los Angeles Times‘ Geoff Boucher looks back on several of Scott’s best-known works. “Scott had had great success directing TV commercials, but his first film, The Hunger —a story about vampirism starring Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie—proved a flop.” It was almost by accident that he landed Top Gun (1986), the “now-classic starring Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer and Meg Ryan about the Navy’s crack fighter pilot program at San Diego’s Miramar Naval Base.” Boucher follows with a bit of back story on and contemporary critical reaction to Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), True Romance (1993), Crimson Tide (1995), Man on Fire (2004), Déjà Vu (2006), The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009), Unstoppable, and The Hunger.
For E! Online, Bruna Nessif gathers immediate reactions posted via Twitter by Ron Howard, Duncan Jones, Lee Unkrich, and others.
Updates: Scott “was working on a raft of projects before his death last night,” reports the Telegraph. Among them “was a movie for the National Geographic Channel called Killing Lincoln and a drama for AMC about diamond trading.” The paper has details on both.
The Playlist‘s Oliver Lyttelton adds that Scott “had been circling numerous projects in recent years, including crime thriller Potsdamer Platz, and a big screen version of 24, while it’s believed that he’d been gearing up for work on a sequel to his breakthrough film Top Gun, which would have reunited him with Tom Cruise.” Earlier in the piece, he notes: “It’s telling to look at Twitter this morning and see how many filmmakers paying tribute to a man who either directly influenced their careers, like Mark Romanek or Joe Carnahan, or indirectly, like Edgar Wright. And while they were best known for action fare, Scott Free’s tastes were broad—the company were behind Cyrus, the first crossover hit from indie darlings The Duplass Brothers. And this has continued, with the company having three films awaiting release; Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace, Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker and Eran Creevy’s Welcome to the Punch (the director of the latter said this morning that the film in many ways serves as a tribute to Scott’s work).”
Kim Morgan recalls interviewing Scott: “He told me of all his pictures, his favorite movie was True Romance: ‘I love all my films, but True Romance was the best screenplay I ever had. And all that was Quentin [Tarantino]. It was so well crafted. But I did change the end. Originally in Quentin’s version, Patricia [Arquette] pulls over on the freeway and she puts a gun in her mouth. I shot the film in continuity, so by the time I got to the end of shooting the movie I had fallen in love with the two characters and it was a love story so I wanted these characters to live.’”
“‘I’m more classical and he’s rock’n'roll,’ Ridley Scott once remarked of his younger brother,” notes the Guardian‘s Xan Brooks. “His filmmaking style was a very 80s breed of rock’n'roll: supple, glossy and smart, a reaction to the self-conscious noodling of 70s prog-rock.”
As Christoph Hochhäusler notes below, the LAT‘s Andrew Blankstein and John Horn report that Scott “had recently completed filming on Out of the Furnace, a drama he was producing about an ex-con starring Christian Bale. The movie is set to come out next year.”
“The careers of Tony Scott and his brother Sir Ridley are exemplars of how the talent of the north of England will out,” argues Martin Wainwright in the Guardian. “Famously, Sir Ridley made the 1973 Hovis bread advert Boy on a Bike, which tapped directly into the national sense at the time of ‘the north’.” The ad’s “inspirations included Sir Ridley’s first film Boy and Bicycle, a £65 job done while he was a student at the Royal College of Art which starred Tony as a truanting schoolboy in Hartlepool and showed the talents of both of them…. Tony Scott’s own Hovis advert Runaway, screened in 1979, abandoned the West Country for an entirely Bronte-esque moor, grim halflight included. Go On Lad in 2008, which follows a flatcapped boy through 200 years of British and Hovis history, uses a range of locations but ‘northernerises’ them all.”
Viewing (30’44″). Last December, David Poland spoke with Tony Scott about Unstoppable and more.
Christoph Huber and Mark Peranson on Déjà Vu back in Cinema Scope 29: “Maybe the comparative restraint and metaphysical bent of Scott’s masterpiece, a surveillance-era post-Hitchcock concoction that dares to begin with a nine-minute bravura sequence of dialogue-free ‘pure cinema,’ will help viewers see past the prejudices—though the incomprehension that greeted the magnificent, if meddlesome biopic-atomizer Domino a year ago, makes it doubtful…. ‘Control is an illusion,’ Kidman already said to Cruise’s NASCAR driver way back in Days of Thunder (1990), and in hindsight it seems an announcement of themes, even style. Ironically, it also applies to the director’s experience on the movie itself: Rushed into theatres, it left him with little time to edit ‘over a million feet of film’ and the depressive insight, ‘I was just a hired gun.’ Is it a coincidence that quite a bit of Tony’s later work can also be seen as allegorical of filmmaking and its power struggles, or the problems inherent in, pace The Fan (1996), taking one for the team? What drives Crimson Tide (1995) if not an explicit battle for the direction of the sub (and, more roundabout, over the interpretation of reality)? And dubious image-production abounds, be it the satellite surveillance in Enemy of the State (1998) or the reality TV shenanigans in Domino (2005).”
For Glenn Kenny, “where I finally came down on Scott was that he was a supreme kinetic fantasist with an ostentatious, nose-thumbing love of a form of vulgar philistinism. Which facilities and inclinations enabled him, say, to overheat the winking comic-book pyrotechnics of the arguably meretricious scenario of Domino with a straight face.”
“In 1995 Senator Bob Dole, preparing to run for President, lambasted True Romance as an example of films that ‘revel in mindless violence and loveless sex,’” recalls Time‘s Richard Corliss. “A more accurate description would be: loving violence and mine-field sex. But a revel it is. Trading on his apprenticeship in commercials, Scott always knew how to make each image yummy, seductive, good enough to buy, whether the scene is selling sex, violence or some slick sociopathic blend of the two.”
“Where most directors who benefited from the aegis of Jerry Bruckheimer—namely Michael Bay—developed a style based on blunt, constant spectacle, Scott became increasingly graceful in his approach, at times suggesting an abstract artist adrift in a commercial enterprise,” writes Ben Sachs at the Chicago Reader. “His recent work is instantly recognizable for its oversaturated color, which allows for constant fleeting pleasures amid the violent bombast of the action sequences. The same can be said of his purposely dizzying editing…. As he got older, his films became more referential, if not reverential. This quality becomes central to Scott’s films with Gene Hackman’s performance in Enemy of the State (which sent up his role in The Conversation), and it continues into the charming self-parodies he elicited from Robert Redford in Spy Game and John Travolta in Pelham. But Deja Vu represents the peak of Scott’s information-clogged worldview, blending Preminger’s Laura, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, his brother Ridley’s Blade Runner, and countless other sci-fi movies into a reasonable approximation of what it’s like to work for the Department of Homeland Security.”
“What we like to think of today as the Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer aesthetic was, in fact, originally the Tony Scott aesthetic,” Bilge Ebiri reminds us. What’s more: “I don’t think I can recall a single genuinely bad performance in a Tony Scott movie. His work with actors like [Denzel] Washington and Gene Hackman was often sterling, but he also got career best performances out of performers with more limited range, like [Chris] Pine, Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Damon Wayans, Bronson Pinchot… the list goes on.”
Alex Pareene, who usually writes about politics for Salon, argues the case Tony’s films over Ridley’s.
From Ryland Walker Knight: “Tony, by the way, animated the Scott Free logo, which, in 3D ahead of Prometheus, was maybe the best thing about that movie, and maybe my favorite bit of 3D I’ve seen.”
Ridley Scott has halted production of The Counselor, reports the Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth. Shooting of the film written by Cormac McCarthy and starring Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Rosie Perez will be delayed at least a week. Meantime, reports suggest that “Scott may have been led to suicide following the news that he had inoperable brain cancer.”
Updates, 8/21: “A maximalist, Mr. Scott used a lot of everything in his movies: smoke, cuts, camera moves, color.” Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: “This kind of stylistic, self-conscious excess could be glorious, as in his underappreciated film Domino (2005), about a gorgeous bounty hunter (Keira Knightley), in which the superfluity of the visuals matches that of Richard Kelly’s screenplay. A common knock against a director like Mr. Scott is that his movies are all style and no content, as if the two were really separable…. More than one colleague dinged me for liking his films, as if happily admitting to their pleasures was an unpardonable breach of good taste (or correct politics). There was plenty about his work that was problematic and at times offensive, yet it could have terrific pop, vigor, beauty and a near pure-cinema quality. These were, more than anything, films by someone who wanted to pull you in hard and never let you go. Years after I met him, Mr. Scott sent me a note of thanks for my review of Domino, embellishing it with a witty self-portrait of a figure in a red cap smoking a very large cigar. He looms large on this little rectangle, a blank screen he filled with vivid energy.”
New York‘s David Edelstein was no fan of Domino or, for that matter, the “appalling” remakes of Man on Fire and The Taking of Pelham 123, but: “Once, though, I felt that Scott’s hullaballoo meshed so perfectly with his script that I put the movie on my best-of-year list: Enemy of the State, in which Will Smith was tracked by the government with multiple satellites and surveillance cameras. The changing angles, unaccountable perspectives, and jittery cutting made the paranoia even frighteningly palpable. The film was not just a triumph but a trendsetter, and none of the many imitations—24, the Bourne pictures—came close to the purity of its vision.”
The Los Angeles Times‘ Kenneth Turan recalls talking with Ridley about Tony: “‘In the summer holidays I went back home,’ Ridley remembered, ‘and I fundamentally ruined my brother Tony’s holiday by hauling him out of bed at 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning and saying, “Come on, I’ve got the car, let’s get going.” He played the boy on the bicycle. It was a self-taught process, I learned with my brother. In those days we’d be standing there smoking Woodbines. I was bitten by the bug of saying “Right, Tony, shut up complaining, ready, ready, action! Next time, go stand back over there. Shut up. OK. By the way, go and get lunch while I think about what I’m going to do.” So I’d give him money to go and get sandwiches. That’s what it was.’”
Catherine Grant has put together an amazing “tribute list of more than fifty links to academic studies centering on the debates about cinematic ‘excess’, as well as on issues of intensified (or ‘post’-, or ‘Chaos’) continuity in contemporary film aesthetics. Rather incredibly, at the weekend, Matthias Stork, talented author of the video essay series on Chaos Cinema, had sent FSFF a link to a draft version of a new video essay featuring Tony Scott’s work, which explored some related issues regarding contemporary film aesthetics. Following yesterday’s awful news, Stork worked around the clock to develop that essay to provide an important tribute to Scott’s work”:
Scott’s family is shooting down reports that he had brain cancer. Zach Dionne points to sources at Vulture.
Scott “was, surprisingly, the director of two of the gayest moves of the 1980s,” notes Tyler Coates at BlackBook, referring, of course, to The Hunger and Top Gun.
“Was Top Gun a good movie?” asks Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman. “That’s a question that’s much richer than it sounds, and I can illustrate it by recalling my own critical relationship to that much-loved, much-mocked 1986 need-for-speed crowd-pleaser.”
Jesse Hassenger at the L: “He made unpretentious, sometimes technically ambitious pulp movies: A-list hamburgers.”
Updates, 8/22: From a must-read piece from Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at MUBI’s Notebook: “The party line on Tony Scott is that he was a ‘stylist,’ a man who made popular, ‘technically accomplished’ and therefore insubstantial films; he had a good eye and he was ‘influential,’ but he just got carried away with all those camera angles and all that editing. There was just too much of him. On the one hand, I probably wouldn’t have to routinely defend Scott to readers and colleagues if his later movies consisted of shots that ran for minutes instead of seconds; on the other, they wouldn’t be worth defending if that were true…. Scott’s smeary, bleary, Dayglo late-period aesthetic and jumpy, jittery editing have very little to do with how we perceive reality or with how action, movement and drama have usually been captured on film. This style is hallucinatory or maybe even hallucinogenic (Scott was, after all, a close friend of Timothy Leary), interested not in the world as it is conventionally portrayed, but in a perspective beyond the senses—one that is only visible through the camera and through editing. It is, in other words, a metaphysical perspective.”
MUBI, by the way, has begun tumbling: Vulgar Auteurism.
“What’s your favorite Tony Scott film?” asked Criticwire‘s Matt Singer the other day, and he got 150 responses. The results? True Romance comes out on top by a pretty wide margin.
“I am not really deluded enough to believe that directors die the way they direct,” grants Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. “But Scott’s death is so radically out of sync with the other public parts of his life that I wonder about the effect it will have on his back catalogue: will those pictures still carry the same sense of abandon now?”
Similarly, Alex Pappademas in Grantland: “Had he location-scouted his own end? Is it insulting to his memory to assume it was that simple? Am I a creep for thinking of the scene in Man on Fire when Christopher Walken says, ‘Creasy’s art is death—and he’s about to paint his masterpiece’? Or for picturing that drop to the water as one of those elegiac moments Scott was so good at pulling out of the gone-ballistic chaos of his action scenes?”
And, via Ray Pride, Film4′s interview with Scott:
Tim Lucas on the opening of The Hunger: “‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead,’ sings Peter Murphy of Bauhaus, but it was actually Tony Scott himself throwing down a gauntlet on the floor of vampire cinema in general.”
“Déjà Vu would represent not only Scott’s very best work as an audio-visual storyteller,” writes Michael J. Anderson, “but also the synthesis of a set of thematic concerns that were born amid his 1990s sub-corpus… The Scott of Unstoppable, which for this writer remains the leading candidate for the second best of his career, like the Scott of Déjà Vu, had become one of the very few artists to legitimately concern himself with the America of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.”
Updates, 8/26: “Who doesn’t enjoy cars crash-landing in pools and derailing trains?” asks Sam De Wilde at Photogenie. “Still, what we enjoy most in Tony Scott’s films are his everyday heroes and the scenes we remember best are the small-scale, well-dialogued exchanges in which Scott’s fondness for his characters is so effortlessly imparted on the viewer. It’s not only Maverick holding his dead navigator and friend, it’s also the next scene in which he has to tell Goose’s wife what happened. It’s Denzel Washington as veteran conductor Frank telling the new guy about his wife and children and it’s Gene Hackman’s Captain Frank Ramsey going on about the Lipizzaner horses in Crimson Tide.”
“Looking back at Loving Memory, it’s difficult to imagine it as the work of the same man who directed The Fan, The Hunger, Man on Fire, and Unstoppable,” writes Dan North. “If you really wanted to look for signs of late-period Tony Scott style in Loving Memory, you might point to the tightly controlled cinematography… everything is precise…. Loving Memory differs in its pacing, though, from anything Scott would turn his hand to in the future.”
“His style may have been defiantly impersonal, but few bodies of work better speak to the muscular status battles and territorial snit-fits—the bluff, boast and braggadocio that rule Hollywood—than Scott’s,” argues Tom Shone.
By “bombing,” Days of Thunder “helped bring about the death of the anti-auteur era in 1990,” argues Slate‘s Stephen Metcalfe, “no less than Heaven’s Gate had hastened the death of the auteur era in 1980. The films Scott made in the ’90s, principally Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State, owe their relative elegance as blockbusters to the reacquired authority of the director, an authority reacquired, in no small part, thanks to the debacle of his final ’80s film.
According to the AP, reporting from Los Angeles, county coroner officials say that the notes Scott left behind reveal no motive for what most presume to be his suicide.
“Without wishing to disrespect the departed,” writes Nick Pinkerton at Sundance NOW, “it seems unlikely that the body of work that Tony Scott left behind is of the sort that can be parsed for a key to unlock the Scott Melancholia, that in this case the divide between public product and private pain is, pardon my saying, not easily bridged. The highly-visible lunch hour timing suggests that, anyways, Mr. Scott’s showman’s instincts were undiminished to the end.”
Update, 8/27: “Quentin Tarantino took time from editing Django Unchained Friday night to pay tribute to mentor Tony Scott at a double feature screening of True Romance and Domino arranged by Backstory’s Jeff Goldsmith at the LA Film School in Hollywood. Domino writer Richard Kelly joined the Q&A between the two 35 mm unspoolings.” Anne Thompson reports.
Updates, 9/2: From a personal remembrance, laced with anecdotes, by Kevin Corrigan at the Huffington Post: “There are enough people, within and without the acting community, who couldn’t care less about the needs of an actor, who despise actors, but Tony Scott was the opposite. That devilish smile was all about you, seeing you, he was happy to see you. He loved actors. He loved us! The reason his death hurts so much… isn’t because we loved him. It’s because he loved us. And now he’s gone.”
“While I’ve never been a fan of the late Tony Scott or Christopher Nolan, a few thoughtful articles in recent days have helped me see them in new lights, and got me to thinking about their resemblances as well as their dissimilarities.” So begins another terrific conversation-starter by Jim Emerson.
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