Tony Scott, 1944-2012

Movie fans take a moment today to absorb the news that director and producer Tony Scott ended his own life yesterday by jumping off a bridge in San Pedro, Calif. The 68-year-old native of North Shields, Northumberland was among the first to make the leap from directing TV commercials and music videos to making films, along with fellow Brits Adrian Lyne, Alan Parker, and his brother Ridley Scott. His magazine-slick visuals in such films as Days of Thunder, Beverly Hills Cop II, and especially his biggest hit, Top Gun, helped define the glossy look of action thrillers in the 1980s. Also, his 1983 vampire film The Hunger, his feature filmmaking debut, was a landmark for gay film fans as one of those rare Hollywood films that depicted lesbianism back then. Scott left suicide notes to his loved ones in his car; apparently he had inoperable brain cancer and chose this exit for himself. I visited San Pedro a few years ago. The town has a thriving Croatian-American community; it’s a great place to get ćevapčići, and it affords a lovely view of the Pacific.

I’ll leave you with this clip from his 1993 thriller True Romance, his last film that truly felt cool. The coolness came chiefly from the script, which was written by a young indie troublemaker named Quentin Tarantino. In this clip, a retired cop (played by the late Dennis Hopper) has been taken hostage by an Italian-American gangster (Christopher Walken). The gangster wants to know the whereabouts of the cop’s son. The cop, who’s no fool, knows he’s going to be killed at the end of the conversation regardless of what he says, so he launches into a monologue designed to taunt the gangster into killing him before getting the information out of him. If you’re not familiar with the film, be warned: The language here is incredibly racist and offensive. It is also awesome, because Hopper delivers the speech not out of hate but out of love for his son, and because Walken laughs at the racial slurs even while taking offense, and because Scott uses the Flower Duet from Delibes’ Lakmé as background music. (He used the same music for the Catherine Deneuve-Susan Sarandon vampire sex scene in The Hunger. What could that mean?) I watched this movie when it came out, and by the end I was laughing harder than Walken’s character was. Other people can have their memories of Top Gun, but I’ll remember Tony Scott by this demented scene.