Last Sunday, Tony Scott decided it was time for him to leave a successful life in film, a wife and two kids, a successful brother, friend and professional confidant he had worked with during the course of his career, famous actors and actresses who valued his work and loved him. So he jumped from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles with no one around to prevent or even rescue him. He was 68 at the time of his death. Scott will be remembered for his drive and creativity, that he couldn’t kill, that he couldn’t take with him. He drove himself like most perfectionists and yet, something that no one quite understands was eating at his will to live. He toyed with the hero/villain character in his movies and yet in all of his movies the hero would be vindicated and win in the end. Tony was our hero; he wasn’t supposed to die; he wasn’t supposed to end.
Now that he’s been laid to rest, he left us a puzzle without any apparent clues as of yet. And because we’re still in disbelief, his mysterious departure has us struggling, trying to make some sense of a death that appears to be senseless.
The director’s older brother Ridley Scott, also an acclaimed director, and family paid their last respects to Tony Scott during the service, which was held in Los Angeles, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
It was reported on Friday, August 24, that he left a suicide note and several letters to loved ones before his death. The notes however, do not appear to offer any clues about why he committed suicide.
An autopsy on Scott’s body was performed on August 20 but his death is still under investigation and results of the toxicology report could take weeks.
Tony Scott, was one of the most influential film directors of the past 25 years, if also one of the most consistently and egregiously underloved by critics. One of the pop futurists of the contemporary blockbuster, he helped turn Tom Cruise into a megastar with the 1986 smash “Top Gun” and was instrumental in transforming Denzel Washington, over the course of five movies they made together — beginning with the locked-jaw masculinities of “Crimson Tide” (1995) and ending with the working-class heroics of “Unstoppable” (2010) — into a global brand. Mr. Scott made a lot of people rich and even more people happy with his enjoyably visceral work.
Mr. Scott effectively began his film career in the early 1960s by acting in a student effort, “Boy and Bicycle,” directed by his older brother Ridley Scott. Their lives continued to overlap: Ridley attended the Royal College of Art, and Tony followed him there; after Ridley graduated and created his production company, Ridley Scott Associates, he hired his brother as an associate. Ridley tended to win better reviews; Tony regularly dominated the box office. They built on the success of their commercials (Nike, etc.) and music videos (Madonna, et al.); established Scott Free Productions; bought the British film studioShepperton; and directed and produced an array of entertainments. Throughout, Tony Scott continued to make commercials, like the wonderfully funny extended-play “Beat the Devil,” involving a driver (Clive Owen), the Devil (Gary Oldman) and an old musician looking to renew a contract (James Brown himself).
Advertising was the creative playground where the Scott brothers — and other British filmmakers, like the directors Alan Parker and Adrian Lyne, and the producer David Puttnam — honed their skills before going to Hollywood. The movies of this particular British invasion cut across genres and subjects, and ranged from the vulgar to the visionary. What they shared was an emphasis on striking visuals that translated ideas (like sex) into sleek, eye-grabbing images that could also work for the marketing. It was a talent that served the industry’s reliance on high-concept strategies — slick visuals, marketing hooks and simple narratives — or what the film theorist Justin Wyatt nicely calls “the look, the hook and the book.”
One such film was Tony Scott’s debut feature, “The Hunger” (1983), a contemporary vampire tale with David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve as a pair of the beautiful undead. (Susan Sarandon joins them amid the billowing curtains.) The movie was predictably slammed, with the critic John Simon mocking its “totally effete interior decorator sensibility,” which of course was exactly part of its appeal.
The same year that “The Hunger” hit, the producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, inspired by some magazine imagery of a so-called Top Gun flight school at a Southern California naval station, had a billion-dollar idea. “It was a picture of a helmet with the visor down, and a plane reflected in the visor,” Mr. Bruckheimer said of the crystallizing image, which needed a crack advertising man like Tony Scott to sell it.
And sell it Mr. Scott did with fast editing, faster jets, a bottle-blond astrophysicist (Kelly McGillis) and a linchpin rivalry about two absurdly named pilots, Maverick (Mr. Cruise) and Iceman (Val Kilmer). Years later Quentin Tarantino, in a hilarious on-screen bit in the 1994 indie film “Sleep With Me,” would argue, as a rabid film freak channeling his inner Pauline Kael, that “Top Gun” was “about a man’s struggle with his own homosexuality,” an analysis-endorsement that boosted Mr. Scott’s cinema cred.
Right around the same time, Mr. Scott directed one of his best films, from Mr. Tarantino’s script for “True Romance”(1993), an often funny, frenzied thriller. Mr. Tarantino counted himself as one of its fans, despite reservations: “He uses a lot of smoke,” he said of Mr. Scott, “and I don’t want any smoke in my films.”
A maximalist, Mr. Scott used a lot of everything in his movies: smoke, cuts, camera moves, color. This kind of stylistic, self-conscious excess could be glorious, as in his underappreciated film “Domino” (2005), about a gorgeous bounty hunter (Keira Knightley), in which the superfluity of the visuals matches that of Richard Kelly’s screenplay. A common knock against a director like Mr. Scott is that his movies are all style and no content, as if the two were really separable. Yet the excesses of Mr. Scott’s style invariably served those of his over-the-top stories, like that of the enflamed title avenger (Mr. Washington) in “Man on Fire” (2004), who — amid the saturated palette, liquid slow motion and a hailstorm of bullets — vows that “anyone who gets in my way, I’m gonna kill him.”
If Mr. Scott didn’t inspire a lot of respect from critics, he does have some dissident champions among serious cinephiles. More than one colleague dinged me for liking his films, as if happily admitting to their pleasures was an unpardonable breach of good taste (or correct politics). There was plenty about his work that was problematic and at times offensive, yet it could have terrific pop, vigor, beauty and a near pure-cinema quality. These were, more than anything, films by someone who wanted to pull you in hard and never let you go. Years after I met him, Mr. Scott sent me a note of thanks for my review of “Domino,” embellishing it with a witty self-portrait of a figure in a red cap smoking a very large cigar. He looms large on this little rectangle, a blank screen he filled with vivid energy.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the Friday funeral was taking place at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. A second gathering paying tribute to the late director will be announced after Labor Day.
Scott leaves behind twin pre-teen boys and wife Donna Wilson Scott.
Contributor D. Chandler