For reasons surely none of us will ever be able to fully comprehend, Tony Scott is no longer with us.
There are many terrible pieces of news you can wake up to, and the death of someone you admire is always up there. Many reports will focus on the ’why’ and the ‘how’. There will always be that morbid curiosity but more important than that is that need to understand; that to know ‘why’ will help to figure out the ‘how’ and to process something that none of us hope we ever have to know first-hand.
But no matter how he chose to go out, Tony Scott has left with us a very impressive legacy, one that deserves not just to be remembered today but for the years to come. It’s strange because the films of Tony Scott are beloved by many, but in terms of the critical conversation he has often been relegated to conversations regarding style over substance, without much thought as to how he has influenced a whole generation of filmmakers. While his elder brother has a more prestigious career, both are aesthetic magicians, concerned more with the film experience above all else.
While their styles occasionally overlapped, Tony Scott was working in an entirely different arena. While The Hunger was his first major introduction to the world at large, Top Gun was the coming out party, not only establishing Tom Cruise as a bona fide movie star but also elevating Tony to the big leagues. Top Gun wasn’t merely an entertaining action film, it was a film that defined its generation and those still to come. There’s something elemental about the world those characters inhabit, their relationships both to each other and the machines they pilot that will forever communicate with men and women the world over. For all the readings into its subtext, soundtrack and gender politics it’s a film that will forever be a part of the cultural lexicon. Most directors would consider themselves to have one film in their career that reaches those heights. Tony Scott has many, and this was just the first.
Beverley Hills Cop II was his follow up, securing him a place in the Bruckheimer/Simpson wheelhouse and arguably the best of the series, and while Days of Thunder was a less successful attempt to replicate the Top Gun magic, it was still further proof of Tony Scott cementing his style. Or so you could be led to believe.
Bookended by Revenge and The Fan, two lesser regarded films in his oeuvre (which isn’t at all fair) the early 90′s contained a filmmaking stretch both iconic and influential. Ask most people what their favourite Tony Scott film is and chances are it’ll be The Last Boy Scout, True Romance or Crimson Tide. All were collaborations with writers who had something to say and a style in which to say it, and Tony Scott managed to meld these incredible scripts to a rock-solid style that was entirely his own. It may seem familiar now, but that’s only because so many people have tried to emulate it over the years.
In 1998, he released Enemy of the State and the next stage in the evolution of his directorial career came roaring out of the gates. A searing and eerily prescient action thriller predicting the paranoia and technologically advanced surveillance of the age we live in now, Enemy of the State was a hyper-kinetic action thriller fusing the Tony Scott of the old with a heightened sense of awareness that soon defined him even more than what came before.
Spy Game was an interesting stop gap, but the real significant shift came with his 2002 short film Beat The Devil for the BMW Films series. Starring Clive Owen as The Driver and Gary Oldman as the Devil, this short was the testing ground for what was to come. Completely throwing the editing rulebook out of the window, the short was a pure cinema injection to the blood supply, the invisible edit be damned. This style was something new. Drawing attention to the devices we’d become accustomed to, highlighting the fact that WE’RE WATCHING A FILM was never more evident but it was immersive and completely all-encompassing. Man on Fire in 2004 was when this style got introduced to the masses and it stands as one of one of the most impressive films of his career. Fuck, that film was an assault.
There are many arguments that this style insulated the audience from feeling any kind of emotional response, but personally I always found more to engage with in Tony’s films than that of his brother’s, whose films are never less than aesthetically wondrous if emotionally cold. Those moments were sometime fleeting but they rarely failed to hit the heart. Be it Goose’s death in Top Gun or Will Smith’s realisation that those he loved are going to get hurt. Be it True Romance and the moment you see Alabama fall in love with Clarence right in front of your eyes, right down to that controversial ending. And most of all be it Denzel Washington, the man with whom Tony Scott’s filmography was almost exclusively defined in the last decade. When he sees Dakota Fanning, alive, at the end of Man on Fire it’s impossible not to feel your heart break just a little, and when he makes that phone-call to his daughters in Unstoppable it’s hard not to feel that these moments are bigger than the narrative their ensconced in. Speaking of Unstoppable, what a film to go out on. While not every film hit entirely the way it was supposed to (Domino, Deja Vu) they were never playing is safe. And with Unstoppable, here’s a film that would have been safe by anyone else’s standards but Tony Scott turned it into a nail biting and memorable time at the movies.
Boy did he make great MOVIES.
His name as a director was a mark of a certain type of quality. His name was one of the few my parents knew and they’d see a film with his name on without any hesitation. You thought you knew what you were in for, but he’d never miss an opportunity to surprise. And as a producer the man had his name on The Assassination of Jesses James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Grey, Life in a Day and Pillars of the Earth to name but a few. Impeccable taste.
We talk about the films he made because it’s what we know, and it’s how we’ll always choose to remember the man and that’s how it should be. He should be remembered for what he left behind and for whatever reason he chose to do what he did, he’s no longer going to be giving us an insight into his world and it’s a sad say indeed. Be it depression or something more, suicide is never easy to process. He left behind a loving wife and his twin sons and as much as the news of his passing hits us, it’s impossible to imagine how it affects them.
I missed meeting Tony Scott by a day while working on Life in a Day. He came into the office to see how everything was going and apparently he was everything everyone wanted him to be. It’s trivial really, what almost did or did not happen but now I can’t help but think I’ll never again get the chance to miss Tony Scott by a day, we’ll never get to see another Tony Scott film and his family will never get to spend a another moment with their husband/father/friend.
How he left us is trivial, what matters is that he was here and he left his mark and that’s all anyone should be remembered for. Tony Scott is a fucking legend, and you can’t put a punctuation mark on that… probably best to leave it open ended.
(If you feel you, or anyone you know may be living with depression more information and support can be found at the Depression Alliance here: http://www.depressionalliance.org/ or on 0845 123 230)