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Critics and Filmmakers Remember Tony Scott

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by Matt Singer
August 20, 2012 11:34 AM
2 Comments
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Tony Scott on the set of "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three."

Tony Scott, director of some of the most influential Hollywood movies of the last half century, took his own life Sunday by jumping off a bridge in California after learning, according to ABC News, that he had "inoperable brain cancer" (TMZ later reported that Scott was not suffering from brain cancer). He was 68 years old.

That was the thing that struck me when I first heard the news: Scott was 68, but you'd never know it from his work, which still pulsated with the energy of a much younger artist. Whether you thought Scott was a skilled technician or an underrated auteur whose slick surfaces obscured more complex themes, everyone agreed that the man understood action and, more importantly, understood how to transform action onscreen into suspense and excitement offscreen, in the minds of viewers.

If he'd only ever directed "Top Gun," the movie that launched Tom Cruise to superstardom and made beach volleyball look totally awesome, his legacy would be secure. But Scott's career was much more than his most famous movie. He directed Quentin Tarantino's script for "True Romance," which went on to become one of the most beloved films either one ever made. His "Days of Thunder," again with Cruise, and "Crimson Tide," his first of five collaborations with Denzel Washington, were two of the biggest hits of the '90s. With "Man on Fire" he inaugurated a final phase of his career in which his cinematic style became even more fractured, even more extreme, and even more distinctive.

After years of being ignored and dismissed by critics, Scott got a long overdue reappraisal around the time of 2006's "Deja Vu," easily the best film of his late career renaissance. Much of the credit for Scott's reconsideration belongs to Cinema Scope's Christoph Huber and Mark Peranson for their article "World Out of Order: Tony Scott's 'Vertigo,'" which proclaimed him as a great director and ignited dozens, if not hundreds, of conversations about his work in critical and academic circles.

"Starting with 'The Hunger' (1984), his films center on obsessive relationships whose blind pursuit threatens the order of things, and usually has terrible consequences for those unlucky enough to be around. The nature of the relationship is variable: Heterosexual romance as in 'True Romance' (1993) works just as well as the homoerotic buddy-bonding of 'The Last Boy Scout' or 'Spy Game''s father-son-constellation. The most extreme case -- and the film with which Tony’s filmography starts getting interesting -- is 'Crimson Tide,' where the relationship between a nuclear sub’s captain (Gene Hackman) and his first officer (Washington) is framed in the most general terms (they obsess over whose view of reality is correct), the system of order is the most rigid (military protocol), and the consequences are the most momentous (Armageddon)."

The impact of Scott's style on Hollywood filmmaking is enormous. His movies came to define entire eras of cinema -- "Top Gun" is the 1980s -- and inspired countless knock-offs. When too many pretenders diluted his style by copying it, Scott simply reinvented himself. The title of his final film offers a fitting description of his legacy now that his career is tragically over: unstoppable.

Here's a collection of obituaries, remembrances, and tweets from critics and filmmakers:

(LAST UPDATED: Monday, 4:05 PM)

Associated Press:

"Tony Scott was as populist as they come in Hollywood, a man of action films, pure and simple. From Tom Cruise as a daring fly boy in 1986’s 'Top Gun' to Denzel Washington mutinying against an unstable captain in 1995’s 'Crimson Tide' or trying to slow a runaway train in 2010’s 'Unstoppable,' director Scott mastered sky, sea and earth in the name of movie adrenaline."

Merrill Barr, The Idiot's Box:

"Tony Scott was a filmmaker I not only looked up to, not only respected, not only idolized, but was also greatly influenced by. Not only is Tony Scott the grandfather of the modern action movie style, not only is he the reason my favorite directors have a true sense of style today, but he made the stuff that in my dream world, I would love to make."

Matthew Byrd, Byrd's Nest:

"Tony Scott’s death is an unmitigated tragedy. Not only because the world has lost, by all accounts, a great person. But also because the world lost a man who not only thrilled and entertained us with his films, but also made us think with them. While his influence on action films may come more from his distinct visual style rather than his plotting, these films were public forums to discuss very weighty, real-world issues, something that is sorely lacking in Hollywood today."

Moises Chiullan, Arthouse Cowboy:

"Tony Scott did not simply make good action films. He made films that transcended genre and reduction. That the characters are relatable and realistic makes the movies work when they are coupled with the hyper-reality of his camera. Even the least of his films are entertaining."

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times:

"His most recent film was a pure action thriller, 'Unstoppable,' starring Denzel Washington as a veteran engineer and Chris Pine as a man he is training. They race to halt an out-of-control freight train hurtling toward the heart of Scranton, Pa. 'The movie is as relentless as the train,' I wrote in my review, 'slowly gathering momentum before a relentless final hour of continuous suspense. In terms of sheer craftsmanship, this is a superb film.' That was true of many of his films."

Film Crit Hulk, Badass Digest:

"PEOPLE LOVED HIM. THEY LOVED THE STYLE. THE CHUTZPAH. THE EVERYTHING. AND THEY'RE RIGHT TO LOVE HIM. PEOPLE ARE ALSO RIGHT TO THINK THAT HIS STYLE REFLECTED HIS ATTITUDE BECAUSE, BY ALL ACCOUNTS, HE WAS A HILARIOUS, GRUMPY, GRUFF THROWBACK OF A MAN."

Damon Houx, ScreenCrave:

"He made movie movies. And violence was just the nature of that world, because -- for the most part -- he didn’t make films about the real world. There was no Ken Loach in him. Tony Scott wanted to get you high."

Oliver Lyttelton, The Playlist:

"2004 then brought the start of a new phase of his career with 'Man on Fire,' which didn't just see him work for the second of five times with Denzel Washington, but also pushed his aesthetic to jittery new extremes, something that would continue through 'Domino,' 'Deja Vu,' 'The Taking of Pelham 123' and finally, 'Unstoppable,' which saw him finding the sweet spot between his formal experimentation and mainstream entertainment; it's about as good a popular thriller as has come out of Hollywood in the last few years."

Drew McWeeny, HitFix:

"Like Ridley Scott, Tony Scott got what seems like a late start on things. So often today, filmmakers are fully defined before they turn 30, and there's an unnatural emphasis placed on the idea that young storytellers are somehow more vital. I think the Scott Brothers both refute that idea quite successfully, and I am greatly saddened to think of someone who had a personality as large as Tony Scott's opting out by his own hand."

Scott Nye, Rail of Tomorrow:

"He was a termite artist in an era that seemed to have no use for such masters, so quickly are those with a true vision pushed through the machine towards more 'respectable' fare. Scott seemed to actively avoid respectability, or at least traditional avenues thereto. In his 60s, he was doing the most radical work of his career, and outpacing those half his age. His ever-shifting, never-cemented aesthetic was a constant search towards expanding what we perceive the limits of narrative cinema to be."

Mike Ryan, HuffPost Entertainment:

"Tony Scott never had the true masterpiece. He never had an 'Alien' or a 'Blade Runner' like his older brother Ridley... but Tony Scott knew how to make an action movie enjoyable. Tony Scott knew how to make iconic moments. Tony Scott knew how to make you remember when you first heard Pete Mitchell ask permission for a flyby in 'Top Gun'; with whom you first saw the standoff in 'True Romance' with; what you thought when a football player pulled out a pistol in 'The Last Boy Scout.' Tony Scott never seemed too interested in making his masterpiece, but he excelled at making moments that you do not forget."

Jeremy Smith, Ain't It Cool:

"Critics decried Scott as a style-over-substance commercial director, but the glitzy 'Friday Night Football' opening of 'The Last Boy Scout' set up a sharp critique of our blind idolization of sports stars. Scott was a skilled smuggler. He was also an amazing storyteller. All told, he was one of the most talented filmmakers of my lifetime."

The Telegraph:

"Although he was accused of vulgarity and excessive love of hardware, Scott instinctively understood the power of images and was obsessive in his quest for visual impact."

Scott Tobias, The A.V. Club:

"Scott’s suicide marks a sad and abrupt conclusion to one of the most influential careers in modern Hollywood. With his 1986 hit 'Top Gun,' Scott changed the template for action filmmaking: While detractors at the time dismissed his style as 'music video' or worse -- Pauline Kael once called him Tony 'Make It Glow' Scott -- there was an aggression and edge to his work that sought to land those gorgeous images with maximum impact."

Jaime Weinman, Maclean's:

"The Commercial Brats restored excitement and a fast pace to types of movies that had become a little bloated. Now, of course, these same movies have succumbed to bloat again in terms of length and the overloading of gimmick shots and fast cutting. Every approach eventually becomes decadent. But if the post-'Top Gun' action movie needs a change in approach, so did the pre-'Top Gun' action film. And Tony Scott’s style of making every shot a movie in itself was exactly what the ’80s needed."

And some filmmakers' remembrances from Twitter...

Haley Atwell:

"Truly sad news of Tony Scott's death. What a shock for everyone. He will no doubt be greatly missed."

Joe Carnahan:

"Tony's influence on a generation of filmmakers is colossal. There isn't a more commercially successful director who pushed the form like him."

John Carpenter:

"I was a big fan of Tony Scott movies. Stylistic Tony, experimental Tony, he had it all. I'm so sad today."

Jon M. Chu:

"Shocked by the news of Tony Scott. Never met you but looked up to all your work. Only heard great stories from the people who worked with you. LOVE."

Rosario Dawson:

"Tony Scott... You left us too soon. How terribly sad. What a lovely, kind human being you were. I will love and miss you much. Blessings to your family. Rest In Peace."

Kat Dennings:

"Tony Scott, rest in peace. How horribly sad."

Jon Favreau:

"Such sad news about Tony Scott. Heartfelt condolences to his family and friends."

Nick Frost:

"Terribly sad news about Tony Scott. Rest in peace."

James Gunn:

"RIP Tony Scott. Damn. He was a huge inspiration. Very sad."

Ron Howard:

"No more Tony Scott movies. Tragic day."

Samuel L. Jackson:

"Taking a moment to reflect on Tony Scott's life and work! My sympathies to his family. Feeling the loss!"

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson:

"'I make a movie because it's something that inspires me' ~ Tony Scott 6/21/44 - 8/19/12 Your movies inspired me."

Richard Kelly:

"Working with Tony Scott was like a glorious road trip to Vegas on desert back roads, a wild man behind the wheel, grinning. I felt safe."

Val Kilmer:

"RIP Tony. You were the kindest film director I ever worked for. You will be missed."

Michael Moore:

"'True Romance' (written by Tarantino) did not receive the recognition it so rightly deserved (one of the decade's best films)."

Neveldine/Taylor:

"Tony Scott, what the hell. Too much sadness in this world."

Simon Pegg:

"So sad to hear about Tony Scott. A master of grand action, nail biting pace and atmosphere. A real loss to film making."

Zachary Quinto:

"Met Tony Scott once. Thought we would meet again. Saddened by news of his passing. Grateful for the work he leaves behind. Peace to you sir."

Michael Rapaport:

"There hasn't been one day since it came out that someone doesn't say to me 'I llove 'True Romance.'' Tony Scott was a sweet enthusiastic and loving man."

Chris Rock:

"Tony Scott director of my favorite movie 'Man on Fire.' 'I wish you had more time'"

Michelle Rodriguez:

"A guy like Tony was a trendsetter, unlike most chart following sheep directors in the big budget action film world. You'll be missed :( RIP."

Mark Romanek:

"Tony Scott was incredibly encouraging to me at an early stage of my career. He was generous, gregarious & immensely talented. Sadness."

Eli Roth:

"RIP Tony Scott. Never knew him but always heard nothing but great things about him and I loved his films. Terrible loss for cinema."

Adam Shankman:

"My heart stopped when I heard of the tragic death of one of our most inspiring directors, Tony Scott. Rest In Peace Tony. You will be missed so..."

Justin Timberlake:

"So sad to hear the news about Tony Scott. His movies made growing up more fun for me. My prayers and condolences to the Scott family."

Elijah Wood:

"Awful news about Tony Scott. Rest in peace."

Edgar Wright:

"I just woke up to hear about Tony Scott. Can't believe it. As I hope was evident in my work, I was big fan of his. Rest In Peace, sir."

Read more of "World Out of Order: Tony Scott's 'Vertigo.'"

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2 Comments

  • Carlos Pasini | August 24, 2012 5:36 PMReply

    I had the pleasure of sharing with him in the late 60's three years as students at the School of Film & Television of the Royal College of Art in London. His graduation film there based on Ambrose Bierce's story "One of the Missing" showed even then the eye of the great film maker he was to become.
    Good Bye Tony, rest in peace.

  • Jon Abrams | August 20, 2012 4:36 PMReply

    Mine (in case you haven't read enough): http://demonsresume.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/a-sort-of-tribute-tony-scott-1944-2012/

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