Truckers slowed at the highest point on the Vincent Thomas Bridge last week, throwing baseball caps into the Los Angeles river in tribute to director Tony Scott, who jumped from the parapet on Saturday, taking his own life.
The huge industrial edifice of the bridge is traveled by traffic to and from the Port of Los Angeles. High-sided carriers, sixteen wheel hauliers and swaying semis box-in the average car, making it an un-nerving but spectacular drive for the uninitiated. Spread below, the port stretches for miles of double and triple-decked containers, cranes and exhaust fumes. Nothing is at human scale. The whole place is heavy duty, gritty, thrilling and very cinematic.
Tony Scott was best known for his action movies, in which fast cutting, lots of explosives and some of Hollywood's ballsiest actors promised high energy hours of big screen entertainment. His best loved film is probably Top Gun, where as "Maverick", a young Tom Cruise earns his wings as a fighter pilot and learns lessons about friendship and leadership. It was the defining movie for a generation of young American men, even though made by a Brit.
Tony Scott and his brother, Ridley, were from the industrial North East of England. North Shields sits on the banks of the Tyne river, dirty from the coal trade, the home of fishermen, colliers and blue collar workers. Ridley left first, for art school, and eventually to become an acclaimed film director. Tony followed and they worked closely together on commercials and TV shows while still pursuing their different strengths in film making.
In part due to his habit of admiration for his brother, Tony was often seen as overshadowed by the more high profile Ridley. Shy in person and always wearing a baseball cap, Tony was, however, the more popular brother for many regular Americans. He understood what it is to work in a trade, rather than an artform, and his audience loved him for it.
Those baseball caps flying out to the LA river are just as eloquent as all the memorial speeches we are about to hear. They acknowledge Tony Scott's identification with the working man and his understanding that on Friday night, after a hard day's work, you need a couple of beers with your friends, and Top Gun.