Nikkatsu Naughties: Part 2 + Tony Scott R.I.P.
Yes, here’s another set of reviews for two socially inappropriate films under Impulse / Synapse’s Nikkatsu Roman Porn Collection, but first comes the shocking news that director / producer Tony Scott (younger brother of Ridley) apparently committed suicide by humping off a bridge.
I think my neighbours actually heard me when I twice shouted ‘What?’ when I saw the report Monday morning on BBC World News. Witnesses said Scott, 68, parked his car on the Los Angeles Country Bridge and jumped, leaving a note for his family. (A recent news piece apparently corrects claims that Scott killed himself because of an inoperable brain cancer diagnosis, and is among the more respectful news briefs.)
Scott was an often infuriating commercial director who produced flashy, empty pictures with lots of noise (Top Gun) when his debut (The Hunger) fared poorly with critics and audiences, but he seemed to hit his stride with Crimson Tide, and the film marked a shift in which a good script could give the director a structure around which he could play with specific tools of his filmmaking kits.
With Man on Fire, Scott experimented with an editing style he later characterized as paintbrush strokes, and in Enemy of the State the editing, frame ratcheting and techno-zooms worked beautifully for a hyper tale of surveillance experts going wild with technology.
In more recent work, however, the manic nature of his cutting often made his storytelling a bit of a mess. Domino was the first sign that without a script and compelling characters, his style felt like knife jabs, whereas Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 was a case where the resources he needed – a compelling script and the freedom to do whatever the hell he wanted with big trains – were denied.
He got his wish to play with locomotives in Unstoppable [M], probably his best film in years, and while it was filled with real trains, explosions, stunts, and effects, he kind of mucked it up by jumbling everything editorially to the point where sometimes the authenticity of the stunts were no different than straight CGI.
And yet, perhaps more than older bro Ridley, Tony took greater risks with editing (or simply didn’t give a shit what people thought). That didn’t mean he was right in most of his editorial choices – there’s no logic to covering someone entering an office with 4+ separate camera angles – but it was his style, and as with any artist, commercial or experimental, there were ideas you could take and appropriate because Scott showed how they could be applied at full volume.
Scott’s films also sounded like his edits, and he fostered a longtime collaboration with composers who liked to mangle sounds into similarly kinetic techno narratives. Harry Gregson-Williams’ Spy Game is a perfect aural mirror to Scott’s images, as is the composer’s Unstoppable [M].
If you glance at Scott’s C.V. there are several strong works, but it ends with Unstoppable, a film with amazingly complex production details the director took on with a kid’s glee.
There are no in-progress or in post-production entries for Scott as director, which means the experience of being provoked, delighted, or just laughing at the ridiculousness of his most manic, ‘painterly’ montages is over. I hate Domino, but I’ll miss the experience of a Tony Scott film because there is no substitute for his command of an aggressive editorial style that remains unique, and pretty idiosyncratic.
The inappropriateness of the Nikkatsu Roman Porno series continues on DVD with Debauchery [M] and Eros School: Feels So Good [M] from Impulse / Synapse, with the former a hands-on poke-fest take on the Bored Rich Housewife sub-genre, and the latter a rape comedy, which is very, very Wrong.
In different ways, each film represents the looming end of the studio’s foray into adult film by going too far, and while it’s quite possible to make equivalent rudeness today, the difference between 2012 and 1977 is substantial: as historian Jasper Sharp writes in his booklet notes, when Nikkatsu switched from legit to adult, they used an existing production and distribution infrastructure which enabled their wares to be shown in big screen cinemas – a vast different from direct-to-video fodder, even if ts shot on HD in 2.35:1.
Coming next: Jennifer Lynch’s Hisss + soundtrack reviews.