Ridley Scott, Cine Realist

 

Keeping it real“- no, not Sir Ridley Scott trying to get down with the kids, more his guiding mantra. Scott is first and foremost a builder of worlds, his art school, set design and commercial background the cornerstone of his various milieaux. If people are dismissive of the Ridley Scott “style”, or even search to define what it is, that is only because he was a trailblazer who kicked down the door for lesser imitators to follow.

Scott studied graphic design at West Hartlepool College of Art and then the Royal College of Art, before joining the BBC, first as a set designer. After hitting a wall directing there, he switched to advertising, creating Ridley Scott Associates, and making a shed load of cash along the way. When he directed his first film, Napoleonic war drama The Duellists, he emerged fully formed, well schooled in the  discipline of film making from the ground up.

A Scott film is recognisable by its interplay of light and shadow, whether the painterly sweep of Harvey Keitel in the aforementioned The Duellists, gazing Napoleon like upon the setting sun over a winding river, or the sprawling, future noir L.A scape of Blade Runner, flames bursting upwards through the smog, reflecting in a huge close up eye. Scott’s worlds are visually gorgeous, mood expertly created by a perfect fusion of set design, performance, lighting and lensing, Scott often manning the camera himself. “A good film can sustain its own magic, like a good book, like a good piece of music,” Scott has said. And every book needs an author, every orchestra a conductor. Scott has always believed film making is teamwork, with him the General, but digging trenches with the troops. Now in his 70’s, he shows no sign of slowing down, with several projects in development at any one time. He storyboards everything with his famous “Ridley-grams”, as well as employing dedicated storyboard artists. He takes a deep interest in the construction of his sets, to a fanatical degree at times. Blade Runner art director David Snyder recalls his department working like demons to get the street set right. Scott came along, had a look, removed his trademark cigar from his mouth, said “That’s a great start, ” then drove off. He recalls sitting in his study at five in the morning, re-working scripts. “It’s a passion, not a job,” he says.

One only has to watch the various edits of Blade Runner now available, or the director cut of Kingdom Of Heaven, and the extensive featurettes that accompany them on Blu ray and DVD, to see his dedication. He has a clear vision in his head, and will fight to get it released, even if he has to compromise with the studio first. He has done dramas, historical pieces, both large and small, comedies, romance: in the case of Thelma and Louise, cross cutting several genres in one film, and helping realise two Oscar nominated performances for his talented leading protagonists, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. Stephen Moss of The Guardian says, “Scott is a throwback to the studio system in which directors such as Howard Hawks and Michael Curtiz, working fast on projects they hadn’t originated, could produce terrific films. He is not an auteur, but he is far more than just a technician.”

Scott has had misfires, who hasn’t? GI Jane, 1492: Conquest Of Paradise and White Squall failed to endear him to fickle audiences. Then he reinvented the historical epic with Gladiator, casting off the fusty staginess of old for a more muscular, visceral real world you could almost reach out, smell and touch. A  brooding leading man in Russell Crowe and a lovely final performance from Oliver Reed, two men who could take potentially clunky dialogue and turn it into spun silk, was simply the icing on the cake.

Of his last few films, only Matchstick Men and A Good Year have been small scale – no less entertaining for that. Matchstick Men is a charming small-con comedy that teases a lovely performance from the erratic Nicholas Cage.

Scott has said “I love to film the past.” With Prometheus, he is embracing the future and the past – an is it / isn’t it prequel to Alien, a search for our beginnings, and an answer to the mystery of the iconic “space jockey” from his sensational 1979 SF calling card to Hollywood. Watching the Q and A with Scott and writer Damon Lindelof at the unveiling of the full trailer it’s clear how much Scott enjoyed returning to the genre that made his name.

And don’t dare call his real sets “old school” -to him, they are simply better, more practical, even more economical. He always sees the bigger picture. “I’ve gradually realised that what I do best is Universes, and I shouldn’t be afraid of that.”

A self-proclaimed agnostic, he was drawn to his latest project, Exodus: Gods And Kings by the notion of Moses as a reluctant hero. He recently told Variety:

I always try to place myself in the position of the central character, and try to come at it from my own logic…that meant fundamentally accepting the existence of Moses and the key events of his life, culminating in the liberated Israelites’ long march from Egypt toward the promised land of Canaan. Once I accept that, how do I proceed, with the greatest respect to the story? It’s so easy to (give the finger) to religions, and we’ve kind of got to stop that. If you believe, you believe; if you’re faithful, you’re faithful. I don’t care what your religion is. The same if you’re agnostic. That should be accepted too.”

For the parting of the Red Sea, Scott drew upon evidence of a massive underwater earthquake off the coast of Italy circa 3000 BC. Drawing criticism for the number of white faces in leading roles, Scott dismisses criticism with film ecomomics: “I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”

Scott ends Exodus with an onscreen dedication to his late brother Tony. He calls his death, when he leapt off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles “inexplicable.” Tony Scott had been quietly battling cancer for a long time, a fact the family kept private. “Tony had been very unwell, actually, and that’s the moment I realized I had to get very close to him again, though we were always close,” says Scott.

With a lot of plates spinning at once, Scott has revealed that he himself will not be directing the upcoming Blade Runner sequel. “Harrison (Ford) is very much part of this one, but really it’s about finding him; he comes in in the third act.”  Expect cameras to roll sometime in 2015.

Finally, here is a very cool compilation of Sir Ridley’s work by Kees Van Dijkhuizen jr, one of several covering a very interesting selection of directors in a series, [The films of]. Enjoy.

 

 

Originally posted 2012-03-24 10:44:13. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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