The news broke late last night that the director Tony Scott had jumped to his death from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, California. He was 68 years old.
The circumstances of his suicide, as described by eyewitnesses in various media reports, seem pretty simple: Scott parked his car on the bridge, got out, climbed a high fence and leapt over the side, apparently without hesitation. Reports of notes found in his car and at his office have been confirmed, though their contents have not been released.
Sudden, shocking, unsentimental; consciously or unconsciously, Scott choreographed his death with the same brutal efficiency as his movies. Whatever you think of the man, he walked his walk to the end.
After creating an aesthetic for Hollywood blockbusters with the heavily soundtracked, golden-hued Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II and Days Of Thunder - where Scott imbued fighter jets and race cars with the same eroticized adoration he gave his movies' human stars - Scott spent the 90s defining his own sensibility in for-hire projects like The Last Boy Scout, True Romance, Crimson Tide, The Fan, Enemy Of The State and Spy Game before finding his métier with ultraviolent, vaguely experimental narratives about messed-up protagonists who have to kill a lot of people before they can find redemption: Man On Fire, Domino, Deja Vu. Denzel Washington was a regular collaborator, starring in five of Scott's films - four of them in the last decade.
Washington co-starred in Scott's last two features, The Taking Of Pelham 123 and Unstoppable, which feel a lot like the journeyman work the director did in the 90s, filtered through his new visual sensibility. Both films favour momentum over everything else; Pelham is basically just a series of angry exchanges between weary negotiator Washington and master hijacker John Travolta, punctuated by violent murders of secondary characters, while Unstoppable is a fevered chase picture in which Washington and sidekick Chris Pine race to stop a runaway train loaded with toxic chemicals from blowing up half of Pennsylvania.
Both films move like juggernauts, all agitation and nervy near-misses; even when nothing's happening on screen, Scott's camera spins around his characters, carrying us along in its wake. The director's fascination with kineticism goes all the way back to Top Gun; nearly all of his movies give the impression of a man who can't even sit still in the editing suite.
It's odd, then, that my favourite Scott films are the ones that let their scenes breathe. His 1983 debut, The Hunger, turned Whitley Strieber's novel of an ancient vampire choosing a new consort into a glossy perfume ad that expertly contrasted a rigid, predatory Catherine Deneuve and a lush, ripe Susan Sarandon. And by following the overblown action-man posturing of Last Boy Scout with the double-bill of True Romance and Crimson Tide, Scott showed he was capable of making tightly scripted, character-driven movies when he wanted to.
But have no illusions: Tony Scott will be remembered for perfecting the modern blockbuster. His Top Gun aesthetic still works a quarter-century later, refined by visual fetishists like David Fincher, Dominic Sena, Simon West, Peter Berg and of course Michael Bay, whose Transformers movies play like roid-raging mutations of the slick blockbusters Scott left behind in the 90s.
That's a hell of a legacy for anyone. Me, I'm going to pull out my Crimson Tide Blu-ray and watch that scene where Denzel Washington and Danny Nucci talk about the Silver Surfer. And I'm going to try not to think about the Vincent Thomas Bridge.