The Great Tony Scott

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.

Comments

23 Responses to “The Great Tony Scott”
  1. Sarah5636 says:

    Thanks for posting this blog Ed I was shocked to hear the news. I’m watching True Romance at the moment, i’m glad i was at the Prince Charles back in 2007 to see Last Boy Scout it was so much fun & with an awesome crowd too.

  2. Blake Brown says:

    Very moving tribute – he will be missed.

  3. He really was one of the greats. Man On Fire was like a full adrenaline shot up Jackson Pollack on the silver screen.

  4. kirbyjay says:

    Keep Marty and Bob, Ridley and Russell and Tony and Denzel are my two favorite director/actor pairings of all time

  5. THIS WAS ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL.

    HULK CAN’T SAY THAT HULK WAS EVER THE BIGGEST FAN OF TONY SCOTT, BUT THE ONE THING HAS ALWAYS BEEN IS OPEN TO THE WAY OTHER PEOPLE THINK ABOUT OTHER FILMS AND FILMMAKERS AND LOOKING AT THAT AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN. AND IF THERE IS ANY SILVER LINING TO THE HORRIBLENESS OF THE LAST FEW DAYS, IT’S BEEN GETTING TO SEE SO MANY PEOPLE ARTICULATE JUST WHAT MADE HIM SO SPECIAL AND INFLUENTIAL. HIS REBELLIOUSNESS IS EVERYTHING IN SOME WAYS. HE WAS MORE DARING AT 68 THAN MOST FILMMAKERS AT 28.

    HULK THANK YOU FOR THIS.

  6. MadMatt says:

    “Make-Up Illusions” must be the best screen credit ever.

  7. I absolutely agree with everything you say. The same was for me, and I enormously admired the experimental style and the guts he showed making Domino, although my favorite films remain True Romance and The Last Boyscout. I had the chance to interview him in Italy, and as sometimes it happens our enthusiasms met. At the end of the interview, as a way to show me that he had appreciated our meeting (it was a True Romance junket), he wrote on one of his picture “Daniela, you’re so cool”. And I found him one of the coolest and nicest human beings I had met in my profession. I will miss him and his films, I wrote something yesterday about him on my tv website (www.comingsoon.it) and I’m shocked and sad like the rest of the world. His best heritage, Edgar, is in the films of people like you. He was a real master, although an unorthodox one, one who could do marvels even with the worst script. So long, dear Tony!

  8. Holly Searle says:

    Great piece. You hit all the marks, whilst delivering a rather moving and touching appreciation of both him and his work. Loved it.

  9. Mark Lediard says:

    I’ve been championing Man on Fire and Domino for a couple of years now. They are both eye bleedingly good and massively experimental in their use of film stocks, editing and camera work. He was old school in all the best ways – practical effects, performances, using films stocks like an artist uses paints, without ever being old. And Unstoppable, as a swansong, is absolutely as much fun as you’d expect a runaway train movie directed by Tony Scott should be. He was on top of his game and never settled and he will be greatly missed. From one North East lad to another.

  10. scout cripps says:

    What a poignant and moving piece of writing. I feel exactly the same way. Another filmmaking hero of mine who I’ll never get a chance to meet. I’m saddened by his tragic death and hope that his body of work rather than the nature of his end will go on to define him.

  11. Yann says:

    Thank you for your tribute! That was moving!
    I always loved his movies! All of them! Domino was the most furious viceral movie he did! For me English directors are the best: Tony & Ridley Scott, Guy Ritchie, Duncan Jones (…) and a guy named Edgar wright wo did the most hilarious films ever!
    Thank’s!

  12. L. Boughton says:

    Thank you, Edgar. That list for DOMINO can be expanded by two at least- my husband and I also really loved that movie. My husband was the art director, but that does not guarantee a love of the finished product. Tony Scott was an artist through and through and wonderful human being. Thank you for this fine tribute.

  13. Evsy36 says:

    Thanks for this Edgar, a well written piece. My friend and I
    were at the ICA that day and actually sat at the end of your row, I think you
    were sat with Joe Cornish? Anyway, we were gutted Tony couldn’t make it but
    thrilled we could see his own personal print of True Romance. I was hoping to
    meet him afterwards as I wanted to ask him if he remembered a fan letter I sent
    him in 1994. Along with the letter I’d enclosed a crude picture card of himself
    and asked him if he could sign it for me and send it back to England. A few
    months later I received a large AirMail parcel and he’d enclosed the signed
    card as well as an autographed director’s cut laserdisc of True Romance (which,
    at the time, was unavailable for home release on VHS due to some copycat
    killings in Europe whereby some couples claimed they’d been inspired by True Romance
    and Natural Born Killers if memory serves); on the back of the card he’d
    written “Thank you for your flattering letter, that was very sweet of
    you” they are still my most treasured possessions and a reflection of his
    generosity and kindness. He was my favourite director and yesterday’s news hit
    me like a brick. I watched Ridley Scott’s 1st film, Boy and Bicycle,
    last night in remembrance and felt a shiver watching the final shot of a 16
    year old Tony riding his bike towards the sea. The film world is that much
    richer for his contribution. RIP Tony, Your No.1 Fan, Lee x

  14. Evsy36 says:

    Thanks for this Edgar, a well written piece. My friend and I were at the ICA that
    day and actually sat at the end of your row, I think you were sat with Joe
    Cornish? Anyway, we were gutted Tony couldn’t make it but thrilled we could see
    his own personal print of True Romance. I was hoping to meet him afterwards as
    I wanted to ask him if he remembered a fan letter I sent him in 1994. Along with the letter i’d enclosed a crude picture card of him self and asked if he could sign it for me. A few months later i received a large AirMail parcel, he’d enclosed the
    signed card as well as a signed director’s cut laserdisc of True Romance (which was still unavailable for home release then due to some copycat killings in Europe if memory serves); on the back of the card he’d written
    “Thank you for your flattering letter, that was very sweet of you”
    it’s still my most treasured possession and a reflection of his generosity and
    kindness. He was my favourite director and yesterday’s news hit me like a
    brick. I watched Boy and Bicycle last night in remembrance and felt a shiver
    watching the final shot of a 16 year old Tony riding his bike towards the sea.
    The film world is that much richer for his contribution. RIP Tony x

  15. thank you so much for this brilliant read, his style was original, Enemy of the state to this day remains relevant, and Man on Fire/True Romance are masterpieces.

  16. Let us dance a jig in the man’s honor.

  17. JMRomeo says:

    I’ve been postponing it for two years already but this September my buddies and I will start writing and shooting our first feature, no matter the cost or where it takes us. And both you and Tony are two of my greatest inspirations.

    Thanks, Edgar. Thanks, Tony.

  18. Thank you for posting this. “The Last Boy Scout” was my way-in to Scott as an auteur as well. I first saw it in the theater opening weekend, a week before I turned 13. It was so gloriously over the top–so imaginatively and surprisingly cynical it was joyous and charming. Some thought it was sexist but the Joe and Jimmy felt were so knowing in their own failures–holding themselves accountable–that it didn’t hold water. Yet how could a film so angry and cynical be so joyous to watch? Moments are so shocking not just that they happen but in that they work, like Joe telling “Fuck you” to his wife as a way of acknowledging his forgiving her and apologizing for his actions.

    Both Tony Scott and Shane Black’s signature feel all over “The Last Boy Scout”, regardless of how they may feel the movie doesn’t measure up to how they conceived it. The dynamic of Joe and Jimmy feels like the dynamic of Tony and Shane, each relationship between a man in his late 40s and one in his late 20s, bonded by the playful cynicism within the relationship.

    Scott’s films always had a playful side, and maybe his lack of self-importance had to do with first becoming a blockbuster filmmaker in his early 40s. Think of that last scene in “Top Gun”, which fades out on Cruise and McGillis before they kiss, instead using the crescendo of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” to pay tribute to the actors with a curtain call; Tom Cruise riding in through the smoke on a motorcycle in “Days of Thunder”, a shot so perfectly timed and executed Scott cut to Robert Duvall laughing about it. He had style and ambition to burn but he made it all fun without being overbearing about it. Tony Scott was a true craftsman.

  19. Josh Randall says:

    By appreciating that restrained decision in True Romance’s Hopper/Walken scene – which worked as I had never noticed how unnoticeable the directors mark on it was – it makes it even clearer that when he went unrestrained full on balls to the wall in his style he was not directing recklessly but with the hand of a learned craftsman… Thanks Edgar & RIP MR SCOTT

  20. Bret Arnold says:

    I have a fun story to tell about my experience as an extra on The Last Boy Scout. Its kind of a long story. Back in the late 80′s I came across a copy of The Last Boy Scout. I read it and the opening scene always stuck with me. (possible spoiler). The scene where the football player pulls out the gun and begins shooting the other players and then turns the gun on himself saying “I’m going to disneyland!” This scene always stuck with me. Fast forward to the early 90′s. I was between jobs and a friend of mine said the unemployment department was looking for extras for a movie. I went down and signed up. Next thing I realize I am at the Los Angeles coliseum standing in line to be an extra for “The Last Boy Scout”. The story doesn’t end here. The line began to go in, but right when I reached the gate the extra casting company told me they had enough and didn’t need us. I was bummed. I began to walk back to my car when I saw one of the casting company employees bitching at his car. He had locked his keys inside. I immediately went up and asked if he needed help. He said yes. I said “If I can get you your keys, can you get me into the coliseum to be an extra? “Sure he said”. I had a clothes hanger in my car, got his keys and he got me in. There I was inside the coliseum as an extra i
    The seats. I was surrounded by fake cardboard people all around. People actually made of cardboard to make the crowd look larger. I watched from afar as Tony Scott directed that opening football scene. Hours and hours went by and I was getting cold and tired. I looked over at the coliseum scoreboard. I climbed up inside and took a nap. As I layed there on the cold floor I could hear Tony Scott’s voice giving direction over a megaphone. There were gunshots and I heard the actor scream “I’m going to Disneyland!!!” This was my fun Tony Scott memory. Rest in peace Tony and thank you for the great films :)

  21. Awesome read. True Romance has been a favorite of mine forever. But The Last Boy Scout will always bring out the 13 year old action movie junkie in me :)

  22. AmberGrindstaff says:

    That was a moving read –Thanks for sharing

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