When I visited Arclight Hollywood on November 12, 2010 to see Tony Scott’s ‘Unstoppable’ on its opening night, I was almost certain that I would have a great time watching it. And I did.
What I didn’t know is that it would be the last time I would enjoy a new Tony Scott movie.
Forgive the name drop on such a sad occasion, but one of the people who came to see ‘Unstoppable’ with me that night was Quentin Tarantino. We sometimes joked that we were two members of the somewhat exclusive ‘Domino’ fan club.
Quentin had been a longtime fan of Tony, even before the British director had zeroed in on his early scripts ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘True Romance’ with a mind to make them both. Of course, he only directed the latter.
But even before ‘True Romance’ was released I remember reading QT interviews where he waxed lyrical about ‘Days Of Thunder’ being like a race car movie directed by Sergio Leone. I also remember him raving about ‘Revenge’ when almost everyone else ignored it.
I am not going to pretend that I was as hip to Tony’s greatness as early. I do have vivid memories of watching his debut feature ‘The Hunger’ late at night on Channel 4 and distinctly remember rewinding the Bauhaus opening over and over.
I also was well aware of the decade defining ‘Top Gun’ and the noticeably slick ‘Beverly Hills Cop II’, but as I was only 13 at the time and I hadn’t quite got my auteur radar working.
The film that made me sit up and pay attention to an insane, cinematic genius was 1991’s ‘The Last Boy Scout’. Shane Black, Joel Silver and Tony Scott all had their problems with this movie, but this did not matter one single jot to the 18 year old me. And it doesn’t matter to me now.
The movie still plays like a dragon eating its own tail, an action thriller framed by flaming air quotes. While completely dismissed by some, it predates the 90’s vogue for meta madness and exhibits the thick ear exuberance of a coked up ‘Kiss Me Deadly’. As you can tell, I highly recommend it. Indeed I have shown it again to appreciative audiences at London’s Prince Charles Cinema and LA’s New Beverly Cinema when curating there. The film is a blast.
Scott followed up this neon explosion with the film that is fast becoming his most cherished work; ‘True Romance’. It’s quite ironic that this movie has been trending all day on Twitter, as it was one of Tony Scott’s few financial flops. But this is absolutely no indication of the quality of the movie. Indeed I barely need to tell any of you how great this film is.
Having seen it again recently on the big screen, what struck me is what Tony Scott does during the now classic scene between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken. Nothing.
For a director often derided for his flashiness, it should be noted that he knew exactly when to reign his pyrotechnics in and just let a great scene play. And it’s worth noting that there’s nearly never a bad performance in any of his films.
From here Scott delivered the formidable ‘Crimson Tide’ as well as ‘Enemy Of The State’ and ‘Spy Game’. But then around 2004 at the age of sixty, Scott unleashed a series of increasingly experimental films into the mainstream that felt like the work of a man less than half his age.
‘Man On Fire’ exploded onto the screen with its dazzling use of handcranking and double exposures. Suddenly Tony Scott films looked positively avant garde next to other studio releases of the day. He truly became artier as he got older, the exact reverse of all action directors.
His next film was the divisive ‘Domino’. But as I said at the time and will happily repeat now; I am just glad that someone got to go as over the top as he did here. Who knows where the line is until it’s crossed? Much of ‘Domino’ is caffeinated dynamite and I remember sitting in the cinema frequently applauding it’s go-for-broke energy.
Both this film and ‘Man On Fire’ influenced my own ‘Hot Fuzz’. I always admired that fact that an English director from Tyneside was twice as bombastic as the American directors of his generation. The central premise of my movie was a big ‘What If'; the question being what if Tony Scott had to make a film in sleepy old England again…
Aping some of Tony’s style in ‘Hot Fuzz’ just made me appreciate his talents even more. Breaking his films down to analyse them, I was even more aware of the staggering amount of work that had gone into the locations, lighting, operating, editing and sound design. He didn’t get anywhere near the credit for his talents as an artist.
I actually edited ‘Hot Fuzz’ using the ‘Man On Fire’ score as a temp track, so in my addled memories there’s always a lost version of my film still scored to ‘The Drop’ and ‘Bullet Tells The Truth’ by Harry Gregson Williams.
As a further irony, when I came to test screen ‘Hot Fuzz’ in New York, (still with the ‘Man On Fire’ temp) I watched ‘Deja Vu’ at the same multiplex immediately before. It was quite the experience to see the two back to back.
I am sad to say I never met the man, but I am told that he liked ‘Hot Fuzz’. I hope that’s true. And I hope it’s clear that I have nothing but affection and respect for his creativity.
The one time we almost crossed paths was for a screening to promote ‘Hot Fuzz’ in London. I was planning to show ‘The Last Boy Scout’ at the ICA and do a Q&A with Tony Scott. He agreed on the condition that I show ‘True Romance’ instead as it was the film he was most proud of. I switched the films, but then Tony had to change his travel plans anyway and couldn’t make it.
It was a shame, but I intro’d Tony’s choice anyway and once the opening credits for ‘True Romance’ started playing, I was lost in escapist bliss again.
I won’t write too much more, because I find the loss of Tony Scott unspeakably sad.
Some say he was underrated. Not by me. I just wish I could have told him that he rocked.
My thoughts go out to his family and loved ones.