I can't pin down just when the rather obnoxious mythical litmus test about politicians in a race, that is, "which candidate would you rather have a beer with?" came into being, but I can say I'm glad it hasn't made its way too far into the realms of aesthetic/critical discussion; it did however, spring to mind a few hours into thinking about the late Tony Scott, who took his own life yesterday at the age of 68. Scott's movies tend to resist, almost violently, the notion of sentimentalizing the man who made them; on the other hand, quite a few of them are movies of a guy that a certain kind of movie-loving guy might actually LOVE to have a beer with, or, more to the point, go ATV racing across the Baja desert while carrying a kilo of cocaine and trying to shake off a squadron of speeding law-enforcement officials AND the posse of the mobster you stole the cocaine from in the first place. His best, most effective movies were not just about the adrenaline rush and physical excitement of the action itself but also about the kickiness of doing the wrong thing (albeit maybe for the right reasons) and better still, getting away with it. The opening scene of his 1983 feature The Hunger, for all its spooky portent and jarring cuts, fairly revels in the fact that everyone in it—vampire David Bowie, victim Ann Magnuson, imperious rock singer Peter Murphy of Bauhaus, et. al.—is getting off. There will be consequences, of course; we shan't see Ms. Magnuson for the remainder of the movie, for instance; but in the heat of the moment the dangerous play is the thing.
Scott's technical facility and specific cinematic aesthetic was of course often put to use in the service of evil, or, as some once called it, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. As someone who began in advertising, Scott was accustomed to selling, and in my own more concern-trollish day, I found it pernicious that Top Gun so convincingly sold its melange of jingoism, macho, inverted misogyny, militarism, and so on. As Quentin Tarantino's analysis of the movie demonstrated, those qualities were arguably oversold in the movie, which makes it in a sense laughable, and in a sense kind of deep. When the selling is less successful, as in Days of Thunder, the result diminishes in enjoyable absurdity and increases in hatefulness. Sometimes there would be a seemingly odd match that turned out to be utterly apposite. I'm not sure what a Tarantino-directed True Romance might have been like, but I have an idea of what a Roger Avary-directed True Romance would have been like; it's called Killing Zoe, and, for whatever other virtues it has, it makes the conceit of the gorgeous hooker who falls in love with the geeky screenwriter stand-in look as ridiculous as it is; in True Romance Scott makes it work, just as he makes work the notion of that dreadlocked drug pusher played by Gary Oldman. Scott's energy and technical virtuosity makes ALL of the multiple geek wish-fulfillments of True Romance register like direct injections to one's pleasure centers.
Some might argue that Scott was more effective, more engaging, more involving, when working with scenarios that were less outlandish; that the tense standoff between two different kinds of military personnel in Crimson Tide is more nominally convincing than a professional football player pulling out a revolver and actually shooting an opposing player in the middle of a game in The Last Boy Scout. But is one REALLY more plausible than the other? I'll let you decide. But where I finally came down on Scott was that he was a supreme kinetic fantasist with an ostentatious, nose-thumbing love of a form of vulgar philistinism. Which facilities and inclinations enabled him, say, to overheat the winking comic-book pyrotechnics of the arguably meretricious scenario of Domino with a straight face.
In other words, he was a formidable cinematic showman, regardless of how gratuitous/redundant any given project of his might have seemed. And as such he was able to earn some critical respect; the Times' Manohla Dargis was never shy about her enjoyment of his vision, and the Scott respect in more hermetic corners of cinephilia is exemplified, alas, by this sentence from a review of Unstoppable by "The Ferroni Brigade:" " 'Oh yeah, Tony Scott—he's good,' says even Lav Diaz, currently residing in Vienna's Ferronian headquarters [...]" The thinking behind that "even" could fill volumes, but too bad the Ferronians would never be caught dead in a Hooters, as they really can't appreciate the Hollywood idealization of the joint that Scott hilariously commits in his variant of the train movie, the last film of his to see release.
The blithe exuberance of this and so many other Scott touches seems to fly rather directly in the face of his suicide yesterday. I don't have any more information about the end of Scott's life than you do, and even if I did I'm no kind of diagnostician. All I know is that, like so much else, it's pretty terribly sad.