A Blue Filter Has Fallen Over The World: RIP Tony Scott
I grew up with the consensus that Ridley Scott was one of the greatest directors in Hollywood… but if I’m honest, I’ve always preferred the work of his brother. Ridley Scott could design the shit out of a set, but Tony Scott could tell the shit out of a story.
The younger Scott brother was perennially underrated, mocked even, for helping to launch high-concept on the world and bring advertising chic into Hollywood. His breakthrough, Top Gun, was a target for critics for its apparently shallow, uncritical vision of military recruitment…but imagine what Top Gun would have been without without a guy at the helm who liked people and wanted the audience to care about them.
Tony Scott loved storytelling. You can tell that from his peak period in the early 1990s, when he made a trio of exciting, literate action movies – The Last Boy Scout, True Romance and Crimson Tide – that have stood the test of time. Crucially, all three were written by guys (Shane Black, Quentin Tarantino) who remembered to put interesting, likeably flawed characters at their heart, and Scott cast appropriately. Just think of Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper’s meeting in True Romance – a scorching set-piece you’d swear was by someone like Scorsese. Scott was the least likely but most fruitful beneficiary of the ‘star writer’ boom of that decade, creating a marriage of indie attitude and impeccable technique that Jerry Bruckheimer would rip off for years in the likes of Con Air.
Crimson Tide introduced Tony to Denzel Washington, with whom he’d form his most lasting partnership. Washington was perfect for Scott: an Oscar-winning Everyman with serious acting chops and believable athleticism, but who refrained from becoming a caricature a la Nic Cage. Washington/Scott have had an underappreciated influence on Hollywood at large: it’s entirely possible that, say, Liam Neeson has looked at their films and realised he could have a mainstream career change without losing his credibility.
There’s certainly a case to be made that Tony Scott was one of the unheralded innovators in Hollywood. It should be obvious now that the director had left an indelible mark on the grammar of Hollywood action, not least in popularising the blue filter as a mark of high style. But he never stopped finding new ways of telling stories on screen in ways that less talented directors were quick to emulate – look how much Man On Fire‘s aggressive subtitles have become a way of life.
The BFI’s recent Blu-ray release of Scott’s 1969 experimental debut, Loving Memory, confirmed that there was always a highbrow film student in Scott… but even then he was a guy who liked blowing shit up. I think you can see that dichotomy in the films: he always took the material seriously even when it maybe didn’t deserve it, and he always dug further than his obvious disciple, Michael Bay.
A re-evaluation of Tony Scott’s career has been long overdue – but not like this. I can scarcely believe the reason I’m writing this today: dead from an apparent suicide at the age of 68. That’s no way to go – but as my Twitter feed confirms, everybody loved Tony’s movies, and by all accounts he was a thoroughly nice guy. Mark Romanek, someone who knew him, said this morning, “he was generous, gregarious & immensely talented.”
A blue filter has fallen over the world. RIP Tony Scott.