RIP Tony Scott

Posted on August 20, 2012 by Ben

by Ben Bussey

Tony Scott redefined high-octane filmmaking in Hollywood. Because of the mainstream trappings of much of his body of work, his connections to Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and of course the sense that he was living in the shadow of his more respected brother Ridley, he has often been dismissed as nothing more than a big-budget hack for hire. Not true. Sure, he provided a model that many of the Bruckheimer school (not least Michael Bay) would come to imitate, but you never have to dig too deep to find more going on under the surface of even his most popcorny efforts. And of course, now and then he’d come up with something that truly defied expectation.

It’s sad but perhaps inevitable that Top Gun is the first film mentioned in most of the obituaries I’ve seen thus far. Many might demonise Scott based on that film, given it served as the most grandiose USN recruitment film in history and launched what many would regard the reigns of terror of both Simpson/Bruckheimer and Tom Cruise. Given the rampant overtones of homoerotism, many may also ridicule Top Gun as an unintentional camp classic. Garbage. As if the man who launched his feature filmmaking career with the abstract and explicitly homoerotic vampire movie The Hunger would somehow be unaware of the gay subtext to his far-removed sophomore effort.

Further down the line his films would even further toe the line between mainstream gloss and subversive weirdness, helped by his knack for finding interesting scripts from interesting screenwriters: The Last Boy Scout (Shane Black), True Romance (Quentin Tarantino), Man on Fire (Brian Helgeland) and Domino (Richard Kelly). Take the motor-mouthed, bullet-ridden madness of all these scripts and combine it with Scott’s increasingly frenetic shooting and editing style, and it’s a potent cocktail indeed. Truly, I can think of few big-budget studio productions that have taken me aback as much as Man on Fire and Domino; not many films or filmmakers have so pushed the boundaries of what can be done aesthetically and artistically within a mainstream format. And I seriously doubt I need to say anything to further sell True Romance. That movie was my introduction to Tarantino, and the combination of those two personalities is truly explosive.

Ours is not to question what drove him to suicide (I gather there’s basically no question that’s what it was). All we can say right now is that this is truly a sad day. Tony Scott had contributed so much to modern cinema, and was capable of so much more. We thank you, Tony… and as the sun sets slowly in the west we bid you a fond farewell.