One of the last movies Tony Scott produced was The Grey, which was, on the surface at least, about seven men trying to survive the wolf pack that chased them across the wilderness. It was directed by Joe Carnahan, but it felt like a Tony Scott movie — the influence was clear. Snobs sometimes dismissed Scott as a maker of popcorn movies — you know, the movies that most people want to see — but they couldn’t see past the quick cuts and loudness. Behind all that bombast, Scott was a painter at heart. He drew his own storyboards. His movies looked a particular way, and lots of directors made their movies look like Tony Scott movies. And at their core, there was often some small beautiful idea, about love or resilience or morality. There was almost always a heart at the center of the explosion.
I interviewed Tony Scott at the offices he shared with his more famous knighted brother, Ridley, back in 2009. I’m relying on a potentially faulty and reeling memory this morning, but I remember that building feeling like a modernist bunker, lots of concrete and rusted metal and glass. If it wasn’t square-shouldered, that’s how I remember it. Scott’s office was big and orderly. We had lunch in it. He ate Sea Salt potato chips, which apparently he always ate. I hadn’t known that about him. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into that interview, but I wasn’t expecting him, exactly. I think I was expecting madness, but I saw few signs of that. He was allegedly English, but he looked Welsh: short, stocky, bald. He was very kind. He spoke softly. I was there to talk about his remake of The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, but we didn’t talk about it all that much. He asked as many questions as I did. He was curious and funny and profane. “I’ve had a love affair with every movie I’ve ever done,” he said. “Some of them have been a disaster, but in the main, I’ve had a great time fucking them. But when the fucking’s over, when the erection fades, you think, How good was it really?” I sat there and began to feel something like love.
Our brief courtship was constantly interrupted by beautiful young assistants and dogs. That bunker — and I don’t think my memory is playing tricks on me here — that bunker was filled with dogs. All sorts of exotic dogs, big dogs, just roaming around like they owned the place, which maybe they did. I’m almost certain there was a Rhodesian ridgeback in the pack, but I feel as though I could name virtually any breed and I would be right that it was there that day. The dogs would come into the office, one after another, and Scott would say hello to them and pat them on the head while he talked, and then that dog would leave and another one could come in.
I don’t know why Tony Scott jumped off a bridge on Sunday. There will be lots of speculation, of course, because we don’t wait for facts much anymore. People will be watching his movies today and looking for signs. Nearly everybody dies at the end of True Romance; Maverick struggled to soldier on after the death of Mother Goose. Armchair psychologists will mine his relationship with his brother, or his three marriages, or his sometimes manic energy as supporting evidence for or against whatever argument they want to make. They’ll try to make things bigger than they were.
I’d rather think about those couple of hours I enjoyed with him in his office, eating potato chips, talking about movies, soliciting the love of dogs. I’d like to imagine that even though Tony Scott won’t make any more movies, apprentices like Joe Carnahan will. I thought The Grey was awesome, bleak and terrifying but also with those little moments of beauty that Scott hid in his movies like the doodles he liked to leave scattered for people he cared about. Maybe there is something deeper there, about the fine line that separates our life’s dogs from our life’s wolves, the same line that divides love and fear, but that’s harder to think about. I don’t like to imagine what life is like in that office this morning. I don’t like to think about that Rhodesian ridgeback, pushing through the door into that empty room — the computer gone to sleep, the messages unreturned — nosing around for a bit, and then pushing back out. Sad dogs always kill me.
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