Sir Ridley Scott (born 30 November 1937) is an English film director and producer. His most famous films include ‘Alien’ (1979), ‘Blade Runner’ (1982), ‘Thelma & Louise’ (1991), ‘G. I. Jane’ (1997), ‘Gladiator’ (2000), ‘Black Hawk Down’ (2001), ‘Hannibal’ (2001), ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ (2005), ‘American Gangster’ (2007), ‘Body of Lies’ (2008), and ‘Robin Hood’ (2010).
Scott was born in South Shields, Tyne and Wear, England, the son of Elizabeth and Colonel Francis Percy Scott. He was raised in an Army family, meaning that for most of his early life, his father — an officer in the Royal Engineers — was absent.
He went on to study at the Royal College of Art where he contributed to the college magazine, ARK, and helped to establish its film department. For his final show, he made a black and white short film, ‘Boy and Bicycle’, starring his younger brother, Tony Scott, and his father. The film’s main visual elements would become features of Scott’s later work; it was issued on the ‘Extras’ section of The Duellists DVD. After graduation in 1963, he secured a job as a trainee set designer with the BBC, leading to work on the popular television police series ‘Z-Cars’ and the science fiction series ‘Out of the Unknown’. Scott was an admirer of Stanley Kubrick early in his development as a director.
He was assigned to design the second Doctor Who serial, ‘The Daleks’, which would have entailed realising the famous alien creatures. Working with Alan Parker, Hugh Hudson and Hugh Johnson at RSA during the 1970s, Scott made television commercials in the UK including most notably the popular 1974 Hovis advert, “Bike Round” (New World Symphony), which was filmed in Shaftesbury, Dorset.
‘The Duellists’ (1977) was Ridley Scott’s first feature film. It was produced in Europe and won a Best Debut Film medal at the Cannes Film Festival but made limited commercial impact in the US. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, it featured two French Hussar officers, D’Hubert and Feraud (played by Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel). Their quarrel over an initially minor incident turns into a bitter, long-drawn out feud over the following fifteen years, interwoven with the larger conflict that provides its backdrop. The film was lauded for its historically authentic portrayal of Napoleonic uniforms and military conduct (often compared to the Stanley Kubrick film, ‘Barry Lyndon’), as well as its accurate early-19th-century fencing techniques recreated by fight choreographer William Hobbs.
Scott’s box office disappointment with The Duellists was compounded by the success received by Alan Parker with American-backed films — Scott admitted he was “ill for a week” with envy. Scott had originally planned to next adapt a version of Tristan and Iseult, but after seeing ‘Star Wars’, he became convinced of the potential of large scale, effects-driven films. He therefore accepted the job of directing ‘Alien’, the ground-breaking 1979 horror/science-fiction film that would give him international recognition.
While Scott would not direct the three Alien sequels, the female action hero Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver), introduced in the first film, would become a cinematic icon. Scott was involved in the 2003 restoration and re-release of the film including media interviews for its promotion. At this time Scott indicated that he had been in discussions to make the fifth and final film in the Alien franchise. However, in a 2006 interview, the director remarked that he had been unhappy about Alien: The Director’s Cut, feeling that the original was “pretty flawless” and that the additions were merely a marketing tool.
After a year working on the film adaptation of ‘Dune’, and following the sudden death of his brother Frank, Scott signed to direct the film version of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Renamed ‘Blade Runner’, starring Harrison Ford and featuring an acclaimed soundtrack by Vangelis, the movie was a disappointment in theatres in 1982 and was pulled shortly thereafter. Scott’s notes were used by Warner Brothers to create a rushed Director’s Cut in 1991 which removed the voiceovers and modified the ending. Scott personally supervised a digital restoration of Blade Runner and approved the Final Cut. This version was released in Los Angeles, New York, and Toronto cinemas on 5 October 2007, and as an elaborate DVD release on 18 December 2007. Today, Blade Runner is often ranked by critics as one of the most important science fiction films of the 20th century and is usually discussed along with William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer as initiating the cyberpunk genre. Scott regards Blade Runner as his “most complete and personal film”.
In 1985 Scott directed ‘Legend’, a fantasy film. Having not tackled the fairy tale genre, Scott decided to create a “once upon a time” film set in a world of fairies, princesses, and goblins. Scott cast Tom Cruise as the film’s hero, Jack, Mia Sara as Princess Lily, and Tim Curry as the Satan-horned Lord of Darkness. A series of problems with both principal photography, including the destruction of the forest set by fire, and post-production interference (including heavy editing and substitution of Jerry Goldsmith’s original score with a score by Tangerine Dream) hampered the film’s release. Legend received scathing reviews and was a box-office failure, however the movie found a cult following on VHS, largely due to Curry’s incredible demon.
Teenage runaway Nicky Marada (Robin Johnson) is arrested after causing a scene outside a nightclub; she’s interned in a psychiatric hospital where she’s placed in a room with Pamela (Trini Alvarado), daughter of Commissioner David Pearl (Peter Coffield) wants to clean up Times Square.
The girls are very different, Nicky is loud, obnoxious and rebellious; Pamela is shy, quiet and insular. When Nicky is discharged she takes Pamela with her, they steal an ambulance and escape to a new life in New York City.
The girls try their luck cleaning car windscreens, hustling cards, attempted muggings, as exotic dancers and eventually make a name as the ‘Sleez Sisters’ through their performances of Nicky’s songs and her insistence on smashing TV sets as a form of protest and self-promotion.
John LaGuardia (Tim Curry) is a DJ in New York; he speaks to them through his radio show, championing their cause, updating their growing fan base with stories of their struggles and alleged punk ethos. As their fame grows they organise a concert in Time Square, however the trio’s delicate relationship starts to fracture.
Times Square was allegedly inspired by a young girls diary found in a sofa by director Allan Moyle who co-wrote the script with Jacob Brackman. The movie starts well and although focused on the serious issue of mental illness, is incredibly good gritty fun. Nicky and Pamela manage to live and work in late 70’s Times Square and avoid the stereotypical pitfalls associated with the area and era: drugs, alcoholism and prostitution are all either side stepped or glossed over. This isn’t such an issue as the movie looks great and is nice snapshot of the era; however any pretension at honest portrayal has to be taken tongue-in-cheek.
The movie bombed on initial release; this has resulted in a blame-game between writer-director Allan Moyle (Pump up the Volume, Empire Records) and producer Robert Stigwood (Saturday Night Fever, Grease). The alleged issues arose over the latter’s insistence on more songs throughout the soundtrack. There must be more too it as the final movie is disjointed and unfocussed. It has since generated a cult following on VHS, DVD and at Lesbian Film Festivals.
Although the movie was a box-office flop, the excellent soundtrack was a huge hit, and it’s not surprising when you look at the track listing: Ramones: I Wanna Be Sedated; The Ruts: Babylon is Burning; The Pretenders; Suzi Quatro: Rock Hard; Innocent not guilty by Garland Jeffreys; Talking Heads; Lou Reed: Walk on the Wild Side; Tubeway Army: Down in the Park: Patti Smith; XTC: Take this Town; Roxy Music and original songs by Robin Johnson, Damn Dog Now (covered by Manic Street Preachers) and as a duets with Trini Alvarado on Your Daughter is One and David Johansen of the New York Dollson Flowers of the City.
It could have been, and probably should have been, a classic story of teenage alienation and rebellion. It has the look, the setting and the soundtrack; however it also has none of the grubby fun of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School; the quality of Suburbia or Repo Man; or the real grit of Christiane F.
Quality: 3 out of 5 stars
Any good: 4 out of 5 stars