Ridley Scott often says that he would have liked to be a painter. References to German romanticism, to Wagner, to Italian firefighter painters, to Joseph Conrad, to Renaissance sculptors, the British cinema is teeming with visual quotations.
It is moreover with his artistic culture and his aesthetic sense that the filmmaker conquered Hollywood by revolutionizing science fiction, the historical fresco and the war film.
Son of a British army officer, Ridley Scott developed a passion for drawing and design at a very young age. He studied at the prestigious Royal College of Art where he forged a solid academic culture and a taste for the fine arts.
Marc Moquin, film critic : “There is a legend that ‘Gladiator’ was inspired by the vision of the famous painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, ‘Les Gladiateurs’. But Ridley Scott is also influenced by the painters of the school of Bologna. Tony Scott [son frère, également réalisateur] notably owned a painting by Guido Reni, a 17th century painter who worked a lot on contrasts.”
In the 1960s, Ridley Scott first exercised his artistic talent in advertising. He learns there to think the plans upstream in storyboards details which are at the origin of the famous “ridleygrams” which he would later draw on the set of his films, with a very advanced sense of depth of field and contrast.
In an interview with France Inter in 2017, the director describes his passion for storyboard : “I am a man of paper and pencil. I sit down and I draw the whole film (…) Thus, I decide on the geometry of each scene. The storyboard is for me a very personal thing”.
A filmmaker in search of legitimacy
Ridley Scott is a director in search of artistic legitimacy. His filmography made of nods to academic art allowed him to establish himself in Hollywood as a refined esthete. But also to give its letters of nobility to an English cinema which was struggling to be recognized on the international scene.
Ridley Scott also brought a whole mythology of European stories to Hollywood. By adapting a short story by Joseph Conrad (The Duelists), quoting the English romantic poet Shelley (Alien: Covenant), bringing the peplum up to date (Gladiator) or by producing epic medieval frescoes (Kingdom of Heaven), he imposed the culture of the Old World on the New World.
Marc Moquin: “There’s a whole dimension to his work that goes from ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ to ‘Blade Runner’ that explains how what was thought to be unique to America is actually a reproduction of the problems of the old world. This dream of a New World was biased from the start, and that’s what Ridley Scott shows in ‘1492’.”
A romantic with a twilight tone
This romantic inspiration and this twilight tone also come from a musical passion that irrigates his films: Richard Wagner.
Marc Moquin: “At Scott – demiurge director – there are always quotes from Wagner – demiurge composer. In ‘Gladiator’, when Russell Crowe takes off his mask, the music is Wagner. There is a dimension of Twilight of the gods. It’s gratifying to see these supermen go as far as bankruptcy, or cause evil to triumph against a backdrop of pompous music, as for example at the end of Alien Covenant which sees the triumph of the android David.”
In 45 years of directing, Ridley Scott has created fictional worlds, traversed historical eras with a deeply pessimistic look at human nature and the melancholy soul of a 19th century romantic.
Marc Moquin: “The idea of ruin itself is romantic and Scott is very interested in the process that leads to that ruin. At the end of ‘Duellists’, when the Empire fell, royalty returned, there’s this scene with empty offices, furniture hidden under white fabrics… This aesthetic of sadness and desolation seems very contemporary to me.