Obituary: Director Tony Scott, 1944-2012

Tony Scott scene

Tony Scott, 1944-2012

Tony Scott, one of Hollywood’s most consistently successful commercial filmmakers for the past three decades, died on Sunday, August 21, after jumping from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles Harbor. A suicide note was later found at his office. ABC News reports that Scott had inoperable brain cancer.

Scott was 68.

The director of such Hollywood hits as Top Gun (1986), Days of Thunder (1990), Crimson Tide (1995), Spy Game (2001), Man on Fire (2004) and, his most recent film,  2010’s Unstoppable, Scott’s movies are easily recognized for their flashy, energetically-edited, fast-moving style. It’s an artistic trademark that memorably injected Scott’s work into the eyeballs of its viewers, though it never made a favorable impression in critical circles or awards committees. (He was never nominated for an Academy Award.).

The British-born Scott took his first filmmaking steps as a director of commercials for elder bother Ridley Scott’s television commercial production house, Ridley Scott Associates (RSA). The younger Scott directed hundreds of films in the 1970s and then, following the feature film successes of fellow British commercial directors Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire), Alan Parker (Midnight Express) and Adrian Lyne (9 ½ Weeks), made his Hollywood debut with the erotic and evocative vampire tale The Hunger (1982), which featured the unique star line-up of Catherine Deneuve (Potiche), David Bowie (The Last Temptation of Christ) and Susan Sarandon (The Greatest).

Top Gun scene

Scott directing Tom Cruise for 1986's Top Gun.

The Hunger struck out at the box office, but it proved to be one of Soott’s only commercial disappointments. He followed it up with international smash Top Gun a few years later, then Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Revenge (1990) with Kevin Costner and Days of Thunder (1990), which reunited him with Top Gun star Tom Cruise (Collateral). From that point on, Scott never stopped working and rarely took a wrong step.

Directing aside, he and brother Tony formed the production entity Scott-Free Productions in 1995 in Los Angeles. The outfit has produced the majority of the Scott brothers’ films, along with a bunch of well-received television series, including Numb3rs, The Good Wife and the mini-series The Pillars of the Earth.

For me, Scott’s films are consistently enjoyable–lively, kinetically entertaining and so Hollywood–and filled with memorable sequences that I could watch numerous times (even if the films I their entirety don’t necessarily require repeat viewing): Denzel Washington (Safe House) cutting of the fingers of a murder suspect to the tune of Santana’s “Oye Como Va” in Man on Fire, Christopher Walken ($5 a Day) interrogating a bloodied Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet) in True Romance (1993), pumped-up football player Billy Blanks blowing his brains out after scoring a touchdown in The Last Boy Scout (1991). These are such things that Youtube is made of!

My favorite Tony Scott film remains The Hunger, his first feature and one that was way ahead of the curve when it came to exploiting the potential–visual, violent and erotic–of vampirism. If you don’t believe me, then check out its opening scene and others by the late Mr. Scott. I’m sure they’ll be getting a helluva lot of play in the coming days.

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.