Sad news for fans of fast, loud movies: Director Tony Scott, the mastermind behind blockbusters Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, Enemy of the State, True Romance, and more than a dozen other movies, has died. According to The Wrap, Scott, the brother of director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator) committed suicide Sunday by jumping off the Vincent Thomas bridge in Long Beach, California.
I don’t know much about Tony Scott the man, but I loved a lot of his movies, even a few that I also kind of hated. That’s the kind of filmmaker Scott was — an intense and frequently ahead-of-the-curve pop visionary who helped pioneer the aggressive, violent, hyperstylized brand of moviemaking that defines so many blockbusters today. Scott, who began his career as a commercial director, and directed thousands of TV commercials before making his first full length film, crafted super-slick movies that had the 100 percent trailer-friendly look, feel, and pacing of high-end commercials — indeed, they played like advertisements for themselves.
At his best, Scott was a better narrative filmmaker than he often got credit for, especially in the underrated Crimson Tide and Days of Thunder. Enemy of the State, despite its movie-world absurdities, remains the best movie about the modern surveillance society and the terrifying power of secret government power to spy on anyone, anywhere, at any time. Despite the flak it sometimes gets, Top Gun was the cinematic equivalent of a perfect pop song, or perhaps the feature-length music video to go with it. Even Scott’s most mediocre movies — The Last Boy Scout, The Fan, Deja Vu — were still engaging little pulp pleasures.
But ultimately his movies weren’t really about story — they were about sensation. Scott loved sound and spectacle, and tried whenever possible to provide maximum levels of both. He loved over the top violence and action sequences as well as sound design built to split ear drums. Enough was never enough for Scott; excess justified itself.
He was among the first big-budget directors to edit his films with the rapid fire pacing that’s become so common in summer blockbusters, emphasizing speed and sensory overload rather than traditional geography and linearity. He was as awesome as Michael Bay before Michael Bay ever made a movie — and far more twisted.
That’s how we got pictures like Domino, a 2005 romp that starred Keira Knightley in the not-very-true story of a young female bounty hunter. The movie, delivered in blast and bursts that resembled headaches more than scenes, appeared to have been edited with a rototiller. It’s a bizarre and semi-unwatchable take on mass media depictions of violence, the star machine, and reality television, and it features some of the most outlandishly grisly bloodshed of Scott’s oeuvre. It's a punishing experiment that can never quite decide if it wants to be funny or horrifying or stultifying, and mostly it ends up participating in the sordid, sadistic entertainment it half-assedly tries to critique.
But my goodness, what a picture. It’s outrageously outrageous, less a movie than an all out sensory assault, like some delirious, insane, nightmare vision of an action blockbuster. I couldn’t stand it, or forget it, and that’s why — despite the fact that it’s basically a failure — I still kind of love it.
And, ultimately, it’s why I love Scott's films. He understood the power of pop — to entertain, to amuse, to subvert, to offend, to irritate, to pound an audience's mind into a pleasantly addled puddle of mush for a couple of hours. At his best, he made movies that you might love, you might hate, but you couldn’t possibly wipe from your memory. I hope his sounds and images stay lodged, however uncomfortably, in our collective consciousness for a long time to come. Rest in peace.