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On Sunday lunchtime, Tony Scott drove his car to the Vincent Thomas bridge in the port district of Los Angeles, parked it in the eastbound lane and then leapt to his death in the water below. “He jumped without hesitation,” official sources told the press – and that sounds about right. We shall probably never know what prompted the 68-year-old film-maker – a Hollywood titan, rich as Croesus and respected by his peers – to take his own life. But having made the decision, Scott was not the sort to equivocate. In films and in life, the man went at things headlong. He left the doubt and the navel-gazing to the arthouse crowd. He jumped without hesitation.”I’m more classical and he’s rock’n’roll,” Ridley Scott once remarked of his younger brother, who followed him into the business after training in fine art. “Come work with me and within a year you’ll have a Ferrari,” Ridley told him, knowing Tony’s abiding weakness for sleek, streamlined, full-throttle hardware. Scott Jr went on to direct hundreds of TV commercials, helping to bankroll Senior’s budding career as a feature film-maker while honing his own style below the radar. He made his feature debut on the lustrous The Hunger (a rare Tony Scott flop that went on to become a cult favourite) and then hit the jackpot with 1986’s Top Gun, that boisterous salute to the American military and Tom Cruise’s dentistry. Top Gun spun its $15m investment into a $350m return. The US Navy set up recruitment booths in the cinemas. Following Top Gun, Scott (born into a working-class North Shields family) could have bought a whole fleet of Ferraris along with his own racetrack to drive them round.
His film-making style was a very ’80s breed of rock’n’roll: supple, glossy and smart, a reaction to the self-conscious noodling of ’70s prog-rock. “I have a very short attention span,” he once admitted, proudly claiming that he worked hard to make sure that all of his pictures came in under two hours. By the end of the 20th century, he was arguably the poster boy for populist Hollywood film-making, the master craftsman of the studio system, flogging high-concept thrills with a dizzying panache. He cranked up the volume for Days of Thunder, brought down the stadium in The Last Boy Scout and rode the audience towards armageddon on Crimson Tide.
What films should we remember him for? In terms of global impact, it’s hard to see beyond Top Gun – surely the emblematic picture of the Reagan era; a film that showcased and celebrated a resurgent super-power, back from the mess of Vietnam and comfortable on its throne again. In terms of artistry, though, one is more likely to opt for the dashing Crimson Tide, the electrifying Enemy of the State, or (especially) the superb True Romance – a flushed, playful and intoxicating road movie, whisked with devilish aplomb out of an early script by Quentin Tarantino. But today, more than any other, I find myself drawn back to his lovely screen debut on his brother’s 1962 short Boy and Bicycle. There he is, an everyday teen, grinning at the sky and chewing on his gum as he rattles around the grubby streets of northern England. His incredible, freewheeling adventure is about to begin.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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