The director's fondness for quick cuts and tight editing resulted in a catalogue of simple but exhilarating action movies
'I feel the need … the need for speed!" is probably the most famous line from Tony Scott's most famous film, Top Gun (what else?), the flick that made Scott's career and defined the look of commercial flicks for the late 20th and early 21st century.
It is also a line that sums up what audiences loved about Scott's movies, and what critics did not.
Despite the diversity of his career, a common thread throughout all his films, from the gleeful highs of Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, True Romance, The Last Boy Scout and Crimson Tide, to the deadening lows of his first flick The Hunger, Revenge and Domino (Keira Knightley plays a bounty hunter – let us speak no more about it), is the whizz-bang-chop-cut style.
His spinning camera shots and tight snickerty-snack approach to editing were derived directly from two of his biggest influences: his years working in TV advertising and MTV.
Along with Adrian Lyne, a British contemporary of Scott's who also came to Hollywood via advertising, Scott realised that there was little point in aiming for art when the public wanted what he described as "something more rock'n'roll", and looked to the emerging MTV channel for inspiration.
But where Lyne was apparently dazzled by the sexual imagery of music videos (Flashdance, 9½ Weeks, Fatal Attraction), Scott was more interested in their pacing and glitz.
Not for nothing was he nicknamed by the New Yorker flick critic Pauline Kael "Tony Make-It-Glow Scott".
There are plenty of moments in Scott's flicks that look more like music videos than movies, the most obvious one coming from (again) Top Gun, with leather-jacketed Tom Cruise on his motorbike, cresting over a hill, sun setting behind him, Berlin on the soundtrack.
When he reunited with Cruise for Days of Thunder – which is best described as Top Gun with cars and a character named "Cole Trickle" – Scott dismissed concerns that there wasn't actually a script until relatively late in the planning game, cackling gleefully, "Tom Cruise driving a race car, smoking a cigarette? We'll make a fortune!"
One can only speculate about how much Scott's love of adrenaline in flicks stemmed from Boy and Bicycle – his brother Ridley's directing debut, made in 1962 but not released until 1965 – which starred a teenage Scott cycling through Hartlepool, the wind in his hair, a grin on his face.
But Scott was no mere schlock merchant.
His flicks provide simple pleasures, but unlike Lyne's, they have held up extraordinarily well.
No one would watch 9½ Weeks for fun now; anyone would down tools for Top Gun.
True Romance, in which he Scott-i-fied Tarantino's script, remains a delight, and Crimson Tide looks far more current than the flick that won the Best Film Oscar that year: come on down, Braveheart.
Unlike his older brother, Scott was never nominated for an Oscar.
He claimed this did not bother him, but in one recent interview suggested otherwise.
Musing on his regular "crucifixions" at the hands of critics, he talked about his place in the Hollywood pantheon: "I'm never going to get an Oscar … I'm sort of dismissed.
I've been scrubbed off the list."
Tony ScottAction and adventureUnited StatesHadley Freemanguardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.
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