Tony Scott was the signature American filmmaker of the 1980s. Not the best or most prolific or influential or enduring, but the closest thing to an epitome. Scott died Sunday, an apparent suicide. He jumped from a bridge in Los Angeles. He was 68.
Making Scott’s relationship to ’80s Hollywood all the more remarkable are two facts: He wasn’t American and he released just three films during that decade. He was English, but underscored how an international-conglomerate style had begun to dominate Hollywood. No other director did so much to put forward so prominently such machine-tooled style, MTV-worthy editing, and sleek self-assurance. In other words, he and Tom Cruise were a match made in moviemaking heaven, and their love child was “Top Gun” (1986). It was one of Scott’s trio of ’80s features. “Top Gun” did as much to celebrate and define onscreen the sensibility of the Reagan years as “Saturday Night Fever” did disco or “The Grapes of Wrath” the Great Depression. “Top Gun” also provided a template for Scott’s career: gleaming technique joined to male-driven high energy and forthright mindlessness (which is very different from stupidity). Actually, that formula could describe the template for much of American filmmaking during the Sound Era. But Scott’s technical proficiency — his unashamed stylization of substance — helped set him apart. Tony Scott didn’t make any great films, but all his films looked great.