On Sunday, the day before the night that Tony Scott would jump off a Los Angeles County bridge, I heard the romantic theme song of Top Gun playing in my grocery. That same day, a friend of mine was reading an article about the hardships of Suri Cruise (yes), which mentioned that Daddy Tom was negotiating a sequel to the 1986 blockbuster. On Sunday, had you asked me who Tony Scott was, I would have fumbled through his filmography. On Monday, my friend and I marvelled at synchronicity. We now know his IMDb by heart.
Tony Scott was a prolific producer and commercial director. As a film director, he is probably best known for Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Days of Thunder (1990), Enemy of the State (1998), Man on Fire (2004), and, most recently, the laughably suspenseful (“Stop that train!”) American Recession-era Denzel action package Unstoppable (2010). He also directed the Quentin Tarantino-scripted True Romance (1993). Scott made action movies. Like “high-octane!” “pure thrill!” action blockbusters. He once called them “mainlining” movies; straight to your nervous system, show-you-how-to-feel movies. He may be remembered as attached to but lesser than—artistically, creatively—his auteur brother Ridley (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, Gladiotor). He often wore a faded red baseball cap.
We are memorializing. The LA Times tells me he “lived life like his alpha-male action heroes.” The New York Times, the best for obits, says he “made movies as a maximalist.” I don’t know what to make of a man who jumps off a bridge—a man with twin kids and not, as we thought for awhile yesterday, with terminal brain cancer. Scott certainly knew how to deliver a thrill and he’s delivered a seductive public spectacle in his death (video footage of the jump is being auctioned to the tabloids). So we hypothesize and memorialize all the more. We look for the art in his Hollywood reels because artists commit suicide.
The marathon started yesterday and I’m asserting that the movie that looks the best today, and is the most “art,” is Scott’s first feature The Hunger, from 1983 (with runners up in the splendorous thrill of Top Gun and the smoky, screeching pop of True Romance.) The Hunger stars Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, and David Bowie in an erotic vampire horror story. The film opens with a leather-clad club seduction dance and Bauhaus performing “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” The central motifs of the film are billowing white sheets and spurting red blood.
The Hunger was a flop, like most cult classics. This one is on the campier side of the cult movie spectrum. Like They Live and Showgirls and Dune, The Hunger is embraced for the disturbing realness it resonates despite its artifice. The Hunger is sex and death. More death than sex. Or, at least, more death drive than Eros. There are sensuous shower scenes where Bowie’s butt cuts to Deneuve’s boobs. Sarandon and Deneuve get it on. Without the procreative drive, though, vampire sex is about death. The Hunger takes a horrifying look at aging and dying, subjects contemporary Americans only like to talk around. I feared for my life watching this movie yesterday.