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R.I.P. Tony Scott (1944-2012)

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by Oliver Lyttelton
August 20, 2012 4:30 AM
12 Comments
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Update: ABC News reports that Tony Scott was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. The L.A. TimesTMZ and multiple sources are reporting the that inoperable brain cancer reports are false. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

Some wrenchingly sad news coming in this morning, as it's emerged in the last few hours that filmmaker Tony Scott has taken his own life at the age of 68. Scott was the director of a string of action classics, including "Top Gun," "The Last Boy Scout," "True Romance," "Crimson Tide" "Enemy of the State" and "Unstoppable," and also was responsible for producing a wealth of other film and TV through his production company, Scott Free, which he set up with elder brother Ridley Scott, the director of "Blade Runner" and "Alien."

Scott was born in North Shields in north-east England, six years after his brother, and at the age of 16, starred in "Boy And Bicycle," the short film that launched Ridley's career. Tony followed his brother into art school, initially intending to become a painter, and then a documentarian, but Ridley tempted him into joining his company, RSA, and he directed hundreds of commercials for the company, while also helping to run the ship, and making his directorial debut on a French TV adaptation of Henry James' "The Author Of Beltraffio," in 1976.

Hollywood soon came calling, and after developing various other projects, Tony Scott made his feature directorial debut with "The Hunger," an atmospheric, stylish vampire movie starring Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie. The film was a flop, but he went from strength to strength in commercials, and the early days of music videos, and a Saab promo he shot that featured a fighter jet brought him to the attention of Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, who hired him to direct "Top Gun." The film was a monster hit, helping to cement the stardom of its young lead, Tom Cruise, and remains much referenced and quoted to this day, as well establishing a visual aesthetic that, arguably more than any other film, changed the way that action movies look.

Scott was now a hot property, and followed "Top Gun" with "Beverly Hills Cop II," "Revenge," "Days of Thunder" and the terrific Shane Black-penned action-comedy "The Last Boy Scout," before in 1993, helming a script by a young writer-director called Quentin Tarantino – "True Romance." Still arguably Scott's most critically successful film, it's certainly in the upper tier of Tarantino pictures, and has any number of classic moments and excellent perfomances. Although primarily known as a visual director, it's rare you'll find a bad performance in a Tony Scott film and it's easy to find an inspired one.

Top-notch submarine thriller "Crimson Tide," rare flop "The Fan" and another gloriously entertaining Bruckheimer actioner, "Enemy of the State," followed, before Scott teamed up with Brad Pitt and Robert Redford for the underrated "Spy Game." 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.

The Scotts had set up Scott Free in the mid 1990s, and as well as producing their own work, produced both a number of successful TV series, including "Numb3rs" and "The Good Wife," and features. 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).

The filmmaker 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. It's possible we'll never know exactly what caused Scott to take his life yesterday by jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles. It's possible that Scott couldn't have put the finger on exactly why himself; that, unfortunately, is the way that depression can work. We know that our heart goes out to his family, and can only urge that if you're at your lowest ebb, that you talk to someone; the National Suicide Hotline is at 1-800-273-8255. And otherwise, tonight feels like a good time to put on a baseball cap, light up a cigar, and put on any one of the cracking films that Tony Scott was responsible for over his 30-year career. R.I.P.

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12 Comments

  • Daniel Hidalgo | August 20, 2012 11:48 PMReply

    Prayers for him and his family.

  • Carson Wells | August 20, 2012 11:36 PMReply

    He sure loved to wear cream, beige or green vests. Usually with a pink t-shirt and red/pink cap.

  • Philip | August 20, 2012 2:21 PMReply

    Suffer of brain cancer and put your family through it for years, or end it in one quick moment? Not being insensitive, but it's a major head-scratcher when you're in that position. I don't judge him at all.

  • Yod | August 20, 2012 11:37 PM

    Smoking causes cancer

  • Duddi | August 20, 2012 8:16 AMReply

    R.I.P Tony, i'm sure he'll be missed

  • dudeabides | August 20, 2012 7:23 AMReply

    Its seems everyone in the comments section also likes Spy Game. Seen it about four times and it still holds up, can't say that about a lot of popular films. RIP

  • Gatsby | August 20, 2012 6:17 AMReply

    In the words of Alabama Whitman "You're so cool, you're so cool, you're so cool."
    :(

  • Lalita Ray | August 20, 2012 5:27 AMReply

    Thanks for writing the best piece on Tony Scott so far. I'm so glad you've mentioned "Spy Game". His directing skills are so under-rated sometimes. Just read an AP article (written by a lazy, unobservant git) that says Scott was just an action director, pure and simple. "Crimson Tide", "Spy Game", True Romance", "Enemy of The State", "Unstoppable" - all proof that he was a master at walk that fine line between action, drama and human interest. He will be missed.

  • Kurskij | August 26, 2012 3:47 PM

    Hopefully I'm not alone on this one, but I believe "Domino" will grow in years as it did with me. It's batshit insane, but also somehow very earnest and pure in vision. That quick cut between the truck riding and flying in the air like a crazy speed-induced bug is worth some movies alone.

    Some call it a disaster - I believe (not liking it after the first viewing) it's Tony's best work, cementing the fact that his style cannot be faked (see recent Safe House as an example).

    He, along with Cameron's Aliens, is the father of modern blockbuster visuals. To use visuals, fast cuts and filters with such effort as he did is a mark of a genius, not a talented craftsman he was sometimes labeled to be.

    RIP, Mr. Scott.

  • Johnny Ramirez | August 20, 2012 5:00 AMReply

    Tony Scott was an amazing Director who will be missed by many. His films are some of the best, while not earning academy awards, he did what most directors cant do and thats make all his films incredibly entertaining and He deserves to be recognized for always putting his all into his films and allowing his fans to escape into the worlds he created on film. Thank you Tony Scott for the countless hours of entertainment that you have given us and may you find peace in your rest and I will remember you fondly as I watch my favorite of your films tonight "Spy Game" while wearing my red baseball cap.

  • Kurskij | August 26, 2012 4:04 PM

    Kudos, Johnny.

    I would also like to point out, that, while not gaining Oscar noms himself, he helped to gain them for lots of others - especially in technical nominations.

    Damn, Enemy of the Stat has such a brilliant blend of visuals, editing, acting, sound and score one simply can't say in their right mind that all of those are separate efforts rather than one, immense, conducted by Tony Scott.

    Reading this article and great comments, I have a tear in my eye knowing that I won't be able to make jokes about obligatory rolling-without-any-reason police cars (Pelham 123, unstoppable) in new Tony movies.

    As well as won't be able to enjoy his style - time and time again, anticipate for the next project, root for its success and know that for all the action crap rolling out on screens these days, I have the safe bet on Tony and his unique brand of insane, childish in energy but very mature in execution movies that I grew up on.

    Again, thank you for the ongoing pleasure of rewatching your movies and legacy you left.

  • TheoC | August 20, 2012 4:48 AMReply

    Nice shout on Spy Game, underrated and under seen, a very subtle even somewhat quiet Tony Scott movie. Unstoppable was his best thing in years too.

    Sad news, RIP.

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