By now most will have heard of the sudden and tragic death of director Tony Scott, who took his own life by leaping from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles. It’s completely natural and yet pointless at the moment to ask why this happened. Our decisions regarding our lives are our own and speculation should be curbed out of respect for Mr Scott’s family. But he has left us with a wide body of work that is ultimately far more influential than many have admitted until now.
Born in 1944 in South Shields in the North East of England, Scott originally planned to become a painter after graduating from college but his elder brother, Ridley, convinced him to join him in the advertising industry, having already been utilised by him as an actor in his first short film.
A successful career directing commercials alongside the likes of Adrian Lynne and Alan Parker eventually led him into the same arena as his brother, directing feature films. His first, The Hunger, was not a success, commercially or critically but it laid the foundations for the style he was to employ over his career.
Moving on to craft a milestone in modern popular culture, Top Gun, Scott laid his cards on the table, never aiming for high art but continually pushing stylistic boundaries and creating an aesthetic for a particular brand of 1980s action film. It also marked the beginning of a long working partnership with Jerry Bruckheimer and his late partner Don Simpson.
His style could still be found in high-end commercial advertising as well as big budget movies and clearly influenced a generation of filmmakers who came of age around this time. To be more specific, for good or ill, no Tony Scott would have meant no Michael Bay. His earlier movies defined the beginning of what many have referred to as MTV style filmmaking, at times favouring style over content but rarely proving dull.
Amongst his more memorable films are True Romance, giving Dennis Hopper possibly his greatest scene, the racing drama and spiritual successor to Top Gun, Days of Thunder and Crimson Tide, a taut and gripping submarine drama that sparked the beginning of what would prove to be a long and successful collaboration with Denzel Washington that led to his last completed film, Unstoppable, in 2010.
A Tony Scott film was always guaranteed to keep things going at a full on pace. His work was propulsive, often intense and opted for high style, while unfortunately never garnering the critical acclaim it might have. While some might claim he lived in his brother’s shadow, it is worth nothing that Tony Scott was the director for whose films the phrase “high octane” was coined and was unapologetic about the films he made or the way he made them. He knew what he was good at and he stuck to it, crafting stunning entertainment. His films helped define the cinema of the 1980s.