News is coming in that Tony Scott, director of blockbuster films from Top Gun through to Man On Fire, has died aged 68. The cause of death is apparently suicide, which makes the news particularly sad, and reminds us that depression can strike anyone, no matter what their age, or their apparent material success.
Pop Lifer won’t claim to be an enormous fan of all of Scott’s work but he has been part of our lives since we were practically children. And for one of us, growing up in the economically depressed North East of England in the late eighties, Tony Scott and his brother Ridley were local boys made good, symbols that even we could succeed if we had talent, a work ethic and maybe a little luck. After all, in the words of another famous Geordie, Neil Tennant, “when you’re young you find inspiration in anyone/ Whose ever gone and opened up a closing door.”
Most of the news stories and tributes pouring in are focusing on Scott’s breakthrough film and indisputable 80s icon, “Top Gun”. Like most 10 year olds of that era, “Top Gun” was one of the first films we owned on the new VHS technology, and we saw it so many times that even though we haven’t seen it for 25 years we would probably still know half the dialogue. And like many, we have enjoyed remembering the film’s bizarre homo-eroticism, as well as the hilarious poster where Kelly McGillis has to slouch so strangely and artfully to look a similar height to Tom Cruise that she aqppears to be doing particularly skilled and painful yoga.
But in fact the film we are fondest of is often overlooked: Scott’s gaudy, direct version of the Quentin Tarantino script “True Romance.” In some ways it’s our favourite Tarantino-related movie ever. The romance of the title really is true: in the middle of wildly noisy shoot outs, botched attempts at criminality, tour de force gangster show downs between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken, and an atmosphere of snowballing and terrifying chaos, Christian Slater’s comic book clerk Clarence and Patrica Arquette’s hooker Alabama really do fall in love, naively and totally. There’s an energy and charm to that love which makes us want to watch the film again right now.
There’s also a scene amidst the more cartoonish violence which is quite breathtakingly difficult to watch, when a smoothly sinister pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini tracks down Alabama and finds her alone. She tries to charm her way out of the situation, but fails, and is soon subject to an attack which is so visceral, so real, so clearly a display of a man’s strength and brutal physicality hurled against a smaller woman that it becomes practically a feminist tract, and is certainly an antidote to the stylised, removed violence of most action films. When Alabama holds on through sheer stubborn defiance and will-to-live (see our image above), kills her attacker and enjoys her moment of bloodied triumph it’s difficult not to cheer long and jubilantly.
A truly great film and a truly great scene in a mixed but interesting career. RIP Tony Scott.