MUBI Presents: "The Great Scott" in New York

This December, MUBI will be presenting a small Tony Scott retrospective in New York at 92YTribeca. See below for the films, dates and notes. All movies will be shown on film.

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American cinema lost one of its great, unsung, emigre directors when Tony Scott mysteriously took his life earlier this August. A pioneer in the commercial advertisement aesthetic of the 80s, Scott would take that aesthetic and build upon it, transferring it to a post-9/11 world with hyperfast cutting and camerawork that would eventually come to define the decade and the director. Gina Telaroli and I, working with 92YTribeca's Cristina Cacioppo, have assembled a program featuring one key film from each of Scott's three American periods. To draw out some of the best and overlooked qualities of his small but aesthetically and thematically coherent oeuvre, we're also accompanying each film with a short from the avant-garde, and completed the package with a strangely personal B-noir from Joseph H. Lewis. The series will be launched alongside a collaborative critical project on MUBI analyzing the films of Tony Scott.

Our thanks to Cristina Cacioppo, Katie Dintelman at Swank Motion Pictures, Gabe Klinger, Kitty Cleary of the Museum of Modern Art, and MM Serra of The Film-Makers' Cooperative.


Crimson Tide (Tony Scott, 1995), 35mm
Fri, Dec 7, 2012, 7 pm

This gripping 1995 submarine thriller represents the middle, transitional period of Scott's filmmaking, which saw an increasing interest in an expansive expressionism rich with cluttered, collage-like editing and images. The submarine in Crimson Tide is like the jets, race cars, subway and train of Scott's other movies: an isolation chamber that challenges professional men (Denzel Washington's upstart, intellectual officer vs. Gene Hackman's conservative, old guard captain) to make sense of out of control, highly dangerous situations. Crimson Tide's submarine is pure pressure cooker, separated from the outside world and forcing its men to confront one another's understanding not only of morality but also of the very nature of reality itself—with the fate of the whole world being at stake. (Featuring notable punch-ups for the script's fiery exchanges by Tarantino and Robert Towne!) All within, of course, a relentless, claustrophobic psychodrama that concussively explodes in the underwater confines with gorgeously swathed, often stroboscopic colored lighting. The beginning of Scott's incredibly rich five film collaboration with Denzel Washington.

Showing with Stan Brakhage's ode to the painted frame, Night Music (1986).


Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986), 35mm
Fri, Dec 7, 2012, 9:30pm

The iconic Tom Cruise film and the iconic American film of the 1980s. But also the most emblematic and beloved example of Tony Scott's early American career: Top Gun is the perfect union of celluloid painting and advertising. This Tony Scott era features sexy-glossy images popping with artificial colors paired to superficial stories driven by glam chicness, hokey wisecracking, curtain-thin artiness and speedy action. Here, the image is king, an image that sells Tom Cruise and the Air Force just as it could be used to sell Coke, action figures or cigarettes. Yet this is not an empty style: Scott creates these stunning images as expressive vector points where professionals, isolated in the line of duty, meet and conquer dangerous situations. The challenges of flying gleaming, sky-streaking fighter jets in Top Gun is the beginning of a technophiliac/phobic pursuit Scott would continue until the end of his career. This is the cleanest and purest of Tony Scott's movies, and it stands alone in popular culture: when thinking about a certain kind of American movie, Top Gun is the image.

Showing with Peter Kubelka's commissioned and subsequently radically subverted television advertisement for beer, Schwechater (1958).


So Dark the Night (Joseph H. Lewis, 1946), 35mm
Sat, Dec 8, 2012, 6 pm

The title of B-movie master Joseph H. Lewis’s under-appreciated 1946 gem could describe almost any Tony Scott film (or protagonist for that matter). The film itself, about a Paris detective who gets caught up in solving a crime while on vacation in the provinces, also makes a wonderful companion specifically to Scott’s Déjà Vu. So Dark the Night, like Scott's 2006 film, represents a culmination of expression, themes and imagery for its director. Its traditional flashbacks, reflectors, and doorways and windows mirror the complex screens and technology of Déjà Vu and land Lewis’s characters, like Scott’s, in a ghostly whodunit maze navigating an obsessive love and an overwhelming sense of duty.


Déjà Vu (Tony Scott, 2006), 35mm
Sat, Dec 8, 2012, 7:45pm 

Tony Scott’s obsession with surveillance, a project that began with the prophetic and amazingly pre-9/11 Enemy of the State and continued with Spy Game and Domino, culminates in his late-period masterpiece Déjà Vu. A multi-tiered mystery cum love story about a cop (Denzel Washington) trying to solve the murder of a woman in order to solve the much larger crime of a ferry bombing, Déjà Vu pushes forward the traditional Scott theme of watching and being watched by literally taking it backwards, as Scott manipulates time and space in an attempt to make his “monitors” the good guys for once. Technology introduces would-be lovers that can only be connected through a dizzying array of images; documents of a past that demand an all too grim future be re-written. Like most of Scott’s work, the film is shot on and makes the most of its location, here, appropriately, post-Katrina New Orleans.

Showing with Stan Brakhage's "still life" exploration of image manipulation, The Wold-Shadow (1972).


As a side, or end, note, there were a handful of shorts that we had in mind for this program that were too long to be shown. One was Ken Jacobs' A Loft (2010), to be shown with Crimson Tide; you can preview the work here. As luck and the modern era would have it, all three of the other shorts are watchable on YouTube, so please feel free to compliment the scheduled film screenings with these videos at your leisure.

Night Mail (Harry Watt, 1936)


North Sea (Harry Watt, 1938)


Toute la mémoire du monde (Alain Resnais, 1956)

Responses

11 responses to this post.  Join the discussion

  • Ben Simington

    I want to see a SUSPIRIA / CRIMSON TIDE Color Design double feature!

  • Daniel Kasman

    No kidding! They’d be great for a series on color in the cinema.

  • Bobby Wise

    You write

    “…superficial stories…curtain-thin artiness…”

    and

    “Yet this is not an empty style…”

    Which is it? Also, regarding your secondary choices, how do Night Mail and Resnais connect to Scott?

  • Daniel Kasman

    It’s not an either/or, it’s both. I’ll let you connect the others! Night Mail should be a bit obvious, the Resnais is more related to his post-The Fan films.

  • Nicole B

    Brilliant programming! And showing the Resnais would have been a stroke of genius. Pity about that.

  • duffers

    Isn’t it odd that it takes a director dying for him to be appreciated. Or is it that Scott made shit films and death isn’t going to change that.

  • Daniel Kasman

    Thanks, Nicole!

    @duffers: so true about so many artists across mediums. There were some strong supporters of Scott before he died, though, but you are right in that they were (and still are) a very small minority.

  • greg x

    Congratulations on the event Daniel, and I’ll look forward to seeing the posts on Scott here on Mubi when they come out. Too bad the series is so short since it is going to lose some of the effect of the shift in theme regarding men working as his later films are much more ambivalent, if not downright antagonistic, about the sorts of institutions and masculinity Scott has been linked with since his early success with Top Gun.

    Personally, while I get the distinct impression that Déjà Vu is your favorite of his films, and indeed it is, to my eyes, clearly his second best movie, Domino would have been an even better choice for the late work as it is not only the movie which Scott pushes the medium the furthest, it is also the only one of his films that I find isn’t pulled down by the banality of routine story choices. If Scott’s films have failed to be taken seriously, I think it is in no small part due to his allowing his dynamic imagery to be tethered to dead weight of cliched plot development and/or resolution. If the underlying emotional dynamics of the films managed to be as intricate and unexpected and the visual expression of the places and events shown, I suspect he would have been better appreciated outside of the narrow range of singular craftsmanship.
  • Daniel Kasman

    Thanks, Greg! Yeah we wish we could have a longer series, too. Actually, we wanted either Man on Fire or Domino for the last section, but apparently those prints weren’t being lent out (!). I’m not sure what my favorite is; but Déjà Vu is a good cross-over film for non-Scott fans because of it’s cinephile legacy of time traveling love stories (La jetee, Vertigo). In a way I agree with your final point, but frankly I also don’t understand why people ask for some sort of mythical “full package” from a filmmaker, as if a film “must” fire on “all” fronts simultaneously, and well. It reminds me of complaints about De Palma about how he is for the most part all form—who says a filmmaker needs to do all these things at once? Why can’t they focus on their interests and flesh out their films through conventional shorthand to enable it to play in a larger/mainstream context?

  • Bobby Wise

    We ask for the full package because we’re drowning in a sea of content out here. We need quality to justify our viewing choices. There are only so many films one can see in a lifetime. There are plenty of directors making exciting work in which you don’t have to write off half of the equation (or shut off half of your brain) from the beginning. That’s far from a myth. Towards that, I’ve given Scott about half of his filmography worth of my time. It seems to be more than enough. What would Sarris say? Less than meets the eye?

  • Nicole B

    It’s very simple: an artist/creator speaks to you or he doesn’t. Almost the entirety of Renaissance art leaves me cold, but the Impressionists excite me. I think Welles is vastly overrated, Alan Moore isn’t that great, and James Joyce is all punny noise and literary circus. You’ve seen enough of his work. It’s time to move on and just admit that you cannot be part of the dialogue. You aren’t obliged to like or even understand everything. Better to devote your energies to something else instead of beating the same drum with the same message: I don’t like this director, why do you? I don’t like this director, why do you? I don’t like this director, why do you? It’s a path to nowhere.

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