Sheer circumstance contributed to this week’s focus on our Star Spotlight column. It was either sheer force of strange happenstance or some higher power giving such inspiration. There I was at the computer with my coke and skittles ready to begin writing what’s on my mind when all of a sudden the phone rang. It was a friend wanting to ask a question and while that was being settled, I could clearly hear something happening on that persons TV and what’s more it sounded very familiar.
I got back “Alien, Special Edition. I was in the mood for it.”
I get off the phone and turn on the TV and what’s the first movie that pops up on the channel? Blade Runner in all its infinite science fiction glory.
I get back to the computer and check out the news and the first article I see is a “Scott & Crowe are revisiting Robin Hood” piece. Okay, I get it, I get it.
The man has been involved in the industry for decades now and has spurned out some monstrous classics for the movie goer who can’t get enough popcorn chewing goodness. Two of my favorite films of all time mentally smack me upside the head today by popping up out of nowhere and I look to the DVD shelf and see:
-Kingdom of Heaven
Yep, Ridley Scott it is!
Ridley Scott was born in South Shields, England on November 30, 1937 to mom Elizabeth Jean Scott. When the outbreak of World War II occurred, Scott’s father left his shipping business and took a job with the Army. With the fact of being in the military family life, Ridley Scott found himself frequently relocating over the next several years. In school Scott struggled academically from this kind of childhood, but he excelled in the arts. He found something in which he loved doing and being a part of and his parents saw this in their son. Hoping to nurture their son’s newly found love, Scott’s supportive parents allowed him to transfer his studies over to the West Hartlepool College of Art where he would spend the next four years immersed in drawing, painting, still photography, and graphic design. At the age of twenty Scott graduated from West Hartlepool with honors. This kind of success earned him a scholarship to continue his studies at the Royal College of Art. For those whom don’t know, this is a pretty prestigious school of arts and it was there where Ridley Scott learned to master the craft before he even truly got involved with the industry. He would become a master’s craftsman and it was this kind of focus early on which propelled him to the future of cinematic history. He would spend three years, and two additional postgraduate courses at the RCA furthering his artistic abilities. It was also during this time that Scott would develop a fascination with the cinema.
Through borrowing a 16mm Bolex from the RCA department, Scott’s first experiment with filmmaking came. His short film, funded with little amount of £65 of his own money, was titled Boy and Bicycle. The film would finally be completed and copyrighted in 1965 with a £250 grant from the British Film Institute. While all this was going on, Scott would graduate and head to New York City on a scholarship rewarded him. In New York he gained the future needed experience in editing at Leacock/Pennebaker. A year later he would return to England where he would work as an art director for the BBC. His skill in designing sets for television eventually led to designing sets for commercials. After becoming familiar with the format, he was soon start to direct his own TV ads. You see where this is going? He was becoming parts of a lot of things involved and being attached to well known establishments such as BBC. He would learn about set designs, editing, directing, producing all in a very short years. His career was being jump started rather quickly. After participating in the BBC’s directors training course, he reached a realization that television work wasn’t for him. He then decided to focus almost entirely on his advertisements and in 1965 he opened his own commercial production company called Ridley Scott Associates.
It should be noted that one of his commercials contributed to a well known actor getting married. One of his first commercials was a Maxwell Coffee commercial and in that commercial, Scott put in an early up and coming actress (Shakira Caine) that was so beautiful, famed actor Michael Caine was so love struck that he went and found her and married her. Kind of crazy connection there.
Also another note for you trivia fans. Ridley Scott is the director behind the now very famous Apple Macintosh ad that was featured in the Super Bowl in 1984. Another crazy connection for Mr. Scott.
RSA was a major success, but Scott had not forgotten his love for the movie scene. After a handful of failed attempts, Scott finally completed his first feature film in 1977. The Duellists, an adaptation of a Joseph Conrad short story, was a critical success but financial disappointment. It may have done badly financially but it won the Jury Prize for Best First Feature at the Cannes Film Festival.
Speaking of Joseph Conrad book references. Ridley Scott would use another reference in his next film, a movie which has been a personal favorite of mine for the horror genre since I first watched it in my own childhood. Which reference and movie am I talking about here?
His next film would be 1979's Alien, which established Scott as both an important director and a shining semi cinematic God for horror and sci-fi fans such as myself. In 1982, the director found himself at the center of a storm around his production of Blade Runner. After repeated clashes with studio executives over the film's complex content and downbeat finale, Scott added a voice-over narration and a more positive ending. The results sparked an outcry from film purists, and Blade Runner fell victim to negative reviews and poor box-office results. It wasn't until the early '90s that the director's cut was finally released, theatrically and on video cassette, and the film was recognized as a science fiction masterpiece. It’s still considered a masterpiece to me even in today’s standards. Classics should never be forgotten and Alien/Blade Runner are true classics in not only my mind but most fans of these genres. Carpenter’s Halloween, Escape From New York and Scott’s Alien, Bladerunner are what got me into the genre in the first place over two decades ago.
After the highly cinematic achievement, Bladerunner, Scott continued onward to yet another instant classic for audiences by directing the 1986 fantasy Legend. This cheesy yet good fantasy was a favorite for so many young audiences out there and it was one of the films which put Tom Cruise on the map. Ridley Scott’s brother, also famous Tony Scott, would help propel thespian Cruise even further with their Top Gun. While Tony Scott and Cruise was getting considerable notice, Ridley went onto to make 1989's Black Rain, which featured Michael Douglas as a vice cop on a mission to Japan. Black Rain is one of my favorite buddy-cop films that were so frequent in the 80’s and which were being spoofed in the latest instant classic Hot Fuzz by Edgar Wright. In 1991, Ridley encountered more critical and commercial (mainstream) success with Thelma & Louise. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Director for Scott. Yet another actor was featured in Thelma & Louise which ultimately launched another career. You notice how Ridley Scott had a hand in beginning Tom Cruise’s career with Legend? With T&L, he single handedly put actor Brad Pitt on the acting map. After the film's success, it seemed that the director could do no wrong. Unfortunately anytime this happens with most great directors, he did just the opposite with his next project, 1992's 1492: Conquest of Paradise. The film proved to be a complete flop, and for the next few years Scott relinquished his directorial duties in favor of producing such films as Monkey Trouble and The Browning Version (both 1994).
Every director, actor, producer, etc does this kind of thing. There is no stopping anyone from having the occasional flops or cinematic mistakes. Nobody can be perfect and this holds true for everyone. As the old pop culture cliché goes, “Shit Happens”.
Scott returned to the director's chair in 1996, with White Squall, an action-adventure film set on a boat full of troubled teenage boys. Unfortunately, the film performed poorly among critics and at the box office, and Scott's next feature, G.I. Jane (1997), suffered a similar fate. Something else can be said about these movies though. Once again, Scott jumpstarted acting careers with these films. He then returned to producing, working on the 1997 TV series The Hunger, which was based on the 1983 movie directed by his brother, Tony Scott, who was best-known for such action fare as Top Gun (1986) and Enemy of the State (1998). He would go onto make yet another movie which helped launch more careers and a dark comedy which I also consider to be a favorite of mine. Which movie am I talking about here? I’m referring to 1998 black comedy Clay Pigeons, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Vince Vaughn. He would end up using Joaquin Phoenix with his next film alongside another up and coming actor which would gain prestige in the way of Russell Crowe. After the successful indie like Clay Pigeons, Scott returned to directing with Gladiator (2000), a Roman epic starring Russell Crowe as its titular hero and Joaquin again as his nemesis. Budgeted at 100 million dollars and weighing in at 154 minutes, the film was hailed by some critics who saw it as a return to grand-scale moviemaking, while others saw it as merely overblown. Regardless of the critics' opinions, Gladiator was undoubtedly wildly popular, earning five Oscars, including Best Picture, at the 73rd Annual Academy Awards. This would be another era beginning for Scott in the fact that him and Russell Crowe became fast friends and would go onto partner up in future endeavors including the upcoming remained vision of Robin Hood announced earlier this week.
In 2001, Scott applied his icy-cool visual style, to Hannibal, the much-anticipated sequel to 1991's Silence of the Lambs. Although the film broke the box-office record for the largest opening weekend for an R-rated film, critics were less than pleased with Hannibal's combination of smug, stuffy disaffection and gore. Scott's skills as a director of action were better put to the test later that year with Black Hawk Down, the account of the United States' unsuccessful 1993 attempt to take down the regime of a brutal Somalian warlord. Still bruised from the tragic events of 9/11, the American public lined up in droves for the flag-waving Jerry Bruckheimer production, which would also garner Scott his third Best Director Oscar nomination.
Recoiling from the high-profile prestige projects for a spell, Scott turned his focus to the big-screen adaptation of Matchstick Men, a dysfunctional-con-man tale starring Nicolas Cage as well as more up-and-comers Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohman. Though hardly a blockbuster, the comedy garnered mixed but generally positive reviews, most noting Scott's ability to evince vivid performances from his trio of actors.
In 2005, the director helmed the would-be epic Crusades historical film Kingdom of Heaven with a big budget and stellar cast. He would then go onto make the 2006 drama A Good Year, also starring Russell Crowe as a hotshot broker who finds himself in the depths of a life-crisis when he inherits his beloved uncle's estate and discovers that the simple lifestyle it offers may give him more satisfaction than his fast-paced, high-power job.
From there, Scott has finished production on American Gangster, which is hitting theaters everywhere on November 2, 2007. The film is about a drug lord smuggling heroin into the country in the early 70’s by hiding the stash in soldiers’ coffins. Another all-star cast is set to be in this movie including Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe (again), Cuba Gooding Jr, & Josh Brolin.
Whatever the case that can be said against Ridley Scott, a lot more can be said for him. He’s introduced and help mold some very famous actors and starlets in the industry giving them a chance and a unique perspective which jumpstarted each of their careers. His hand and his stamp of skills have made their effect on Hollywood and the industry scene and he’s also very trusted by the many actors and studios other there today. When he’s attached to something, the film automatically gets noticed just off his experience and cinema history and it looks like he’s not slowing down anytime soon.
Whatever the case, it’s obvious that Ridley Scott continues to stay busy with a list of projects and continues to increase that accredited resume.
That’s going to do it for this edition of Star Spotlight. Talk to you later, Maniacs!