Monday, August 20, 2012

Tony Scott is dead and that sucks. 

I was not a big fan of Top Gun and thought Days of Thunder was totally unwatchable, but along with his brother Ridley, Tony Scott re-defined movie making in the 80s, and the film culture owes him a huge debt.

I was one of the few fans of his first big-budget movie, the totally weird vampire movie The Hunger, in which an eternally beautiful Catherine Denuve and her vampire boy-toy David Bowie compete over the affections of a very hot and very available Susan Sarandon. How can you not love a movie that includes a lesbian love scene between Deneuve and Sarandon? (in an interview, Sarandon said "well, I'd never made love to a woman before, but if you have to do it for the first time it might as well be with Catherine Deneuve). But it was with Top Gun that Scott changed the way we watch block-buster movies. A pounding orchestral soundtrack, beautiful stars, male bonding, and truly pointless testosterone fueled action sequences were not necessarily new at the time, but the slick production values, the oil-painting like lighting, and the over-the-top musical accompaniment to the film's dramatic climax, a hall mark for both the Scott brothers, marked the beginning of the era of super-action blockbusters. Some of his later films--Enemy of the State, Crimson Tide,  Beverly Hills Cop II, the remake of Man on Fire--are among the best films in the genre, and some of my favorites. He also helped the career of Hollywood's greatest action auteur Quintin Tarantino when he directed Tarantino's True Romance. As a producer he produced two of my favorite TV series, The Good Wife and Numbers. He was not just a mover and a shaker, he was a visionary artist. 

Scott reportedly killed himself after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. I have a bit of experience with that. My step-grandfather, Willis Harman, died of a brain tumor in 1997. I was very close to Grandpa Harman, a well known lecturer and futurist. One of the hardest things for me was watching after he had had an operation to reduce the size of the tumor. This brilliant, articulate man, known all over the world as a passionate and moving speaker, lost the ability to speak. His mind was the same. He could form ideas as before (and his ideas were among the most profound you will ever encounter), but the speech centers in his brain were somehow destroyed, and it was like he had forgotten the words that went along with his ideas. All he could do was grunt and point at things. He understood what we were saying clearly, but he could not form words of his own. As he grew weaker and lost control of the rest of his body, he shrank in physical size but not in spirit. His sparkling, elf-like eyes lasted longer than the rest of him, but the spark went out of them too, eventually. I can understand, having witnessed someone I loved so much die of a brain tumor, why nobody would want to go through that or put their loved ones through it.  

A while back a good friend of mine killed himself, someone who was always friendly and joyful, someone whom I looked up to precisely because of his joie de vivre. His suicide undermined the foundations of my world for a few weeks after. It was the most incomprehensible thing I have ever encountered. I tried to come up with an explanation but none suffices. The anger and betrayal I felt when he killed himself  consumed me, and to this day I get mad when I think about it. Suicide is the most selfish act imaginable. You cause indescribable pain to those around you and you get to escape any responsibility for doing so. Even if it ends your own pain the pain you cause to those who love you is so devastating as to constitute an immense evil. 

And that brings me back to Grandpa. A spiritual guru to people all over, Grandpa firmly believed that we subconsciously choose the method of our deaths. When, before his surgery, my mom asked him why his spirit would have chosen this means of dying, he said "I have lived my whole life through my brain. It makes sense that my brain should eventually kill me." He said it without rancor or bitterness. It was not intended as an irony. To him it was a very life-affirming idea. Death is, after all, the culmination of life, and his was a life well lived, one that had a big influence all over the world (it's worth noting at this point that Grandpa was also a noted 60s acid guru, though a pretty conservative one, and he and Tim Leary died of the same thing: food for thought). Grandpa faced his painful demise with dignity, humor, and grace. He refused life support and died at home. I don't know if he would have chosen euthanasia had he been dying in Oregon, but the spirit with which he faced his death was so strong and accepting that he never seemed to despair. 

Tony Scott chose how he went out. There is something to be said for that. It wasn't an act of depression but an end of life choice. All the same, suicide makes me mad. 


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