To claim that Brian De Palma’s 1983 remake of Scarface is a cult classic would not only insult the very notion of cult film (per my belief that a “cult film” should be little-known) but also to truer classics of the 1980s - a class of films in which Scarface has no right to be placed alongside. But this is not to say this update of the 1932 film of the same name - starring Paul Muni as Antonio “Tony” Camonte (the original was based on Al Capone) - is a terrible film; it is a good film with considerable merits but certain developments that relegate it to a curiosity, if nothing more. Its incredible popularity with a certain segment of young males has distorted its message and has allowed Al Pacino’s Tony Montana character (a Cuban immigrant… a decision made at the suggestion of Sidney Lumet to change the dynamics of the story) to attain a status on popular culture that outstripped anything that he and De Palma could ever have imagined.
Tony Montana (Pacino with his inconsistent, awful attempt at a Cuban accent) is a Cuban immigrant who arrives in Miami with his buddy Manny Ray (Steven Bauer) - both of whom are sickened by the menial dishwashing in their first days in the United States. After both had succeeded in killing a former Cuban governmental official in their refugee camp, they find themselves under the protective wings of cocaine dealer Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia) and one of his assistants in Omar Suarez (F. Murray Abraham… to think he would be Mozart’s jealous rival in a year’s time). A drug deal with Colombians goes wrong, Tony soon finds himself drooling over Frank’s girlfriend Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer in an uninteresting, but breakout role), and Manny develops a thing for Tony’s sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). For those who have seen the 1932 Scarface, note that the incestuous themes have returned here and though they are not as omnipresent, Tony’s feelings towards Gina are far more obvious.
Certain transactions are made, kingpins are killed, and Tony rises to the top of Miami’s drug scene with only three things on his mind: drugs, money, and sex. As the film drags on with an incredibly clunky 170-minute runtime, we realize that Tony - despite showing a few glimpses of desperation and disbelief during his profanity-laced interview (Scarface set a record in 1983 for most uses of the word “fuck” in a commercial film) with American immigration agents - is depthless. There is nothing driving Tony except for his own happiness. And no matter what he earns from his drug money or from his bloodied hands, Tony never appears content with what he has. He isn’t happy when he taken Elvira after Frank’s brutal death and he certainly isn’t happy with his preposterously-designed mansion, complete with the famous “The World Is Yours” statue - a line derived from the ending of the 1932 original.
Scarface can be seen as nihilistic, insensitive, and schlocky. What complicates analyses of Scarface is the fact that the film’s outrageous nature was always the intention. De Palma stated that he wanted to make his film larger than life, replete with an unbelievably one-dimensional protagonist (which Pacino caters to perfectly) as humanistically bankrupt as possible. Jumping ship from Fidel Castro’s communist Cuba to an ultra-capitalist, partially government-sponsored capitalism that Tony Montana engorges himself in, we see - by Tony’s squashing of all those who might oppose him and certainly all those who might lay a finger on his sister - a pathetic loss of humanity taking place. Tony is at his most deplorable by film’s end, unaware of the feelings and desires of his closest “friends” and family members and betraying his background despite his claims to be his mother’s (Míriam Colón) son. Contrary to whatever you have been told by certain individuals who have the poster proudly displayed in their room or profess their love of Tony Montana’s aspirations too energetically, Tony’s actions towards his associates, his friends, and his family represent a triumph of unregulated, orgiastic, pure capitalistic intentions over sincere altruism. Pacino’s character is not a person to worshipped or emulated unless one wishes for the destruction of their fragile soul. Those dreams Tony Montana must have held while en route to Florida from Cuba of fortune and fame have been expedited. Because of the cocaine-aided rapidity of his ascendence, his heart knows no values and that beautiful dream of an ideal American existence has been riddled with the bullets sprayed in the bloodbath that concludes De Palma’s Scarface.
None of the supporting performances are worth noting and the age-old practice of whitewashing Latino characters with actors of Italian descent (see: Loggia as Frank and Mastrantonio as Gina). Both Loggia and Mastrantonio deliver awkward performances, a development not helped by Oliver Stone’s Tony-centric screenplay. Cuban-American Steven Bauer and Puerto Rican Míriam Colón are, regrettably, the only Latino actors present. Of the two, Bauer isn’t much of an actor and despite coaching Pacino to deliver a convincing Cuban accent; Pacino’s erratic accent is an embarrassment. Michelle Pfeiffer, who used her role as Elvira as a springboard into greater, more substantial roles, doesn’t have much to do in Scarface. One senses that perhaps - just perhaps - in a film where the testosterone is bursting in every act and even threat of violence there might just have been room for some female agency. Or, like the original Scarface, De Palma could have attempted to play the incest angle as far as he could (the 1932 Scarface is shocking in its portrayal of those implications, given the time in which that film was released). Such notions are discarded in Scarface and the film instead settles for being threadbare gangster material.
Scarface can be a slog if you want it to be. Personally, my morbid fascination of watching Tony’s stunning descent into the lower depths of a personal hell in the face of what might have been a prosperous beginning kept me going. And certainly De Palma’s visuals and intelligent editing sense alongside editors Gerald B. Greenberg and David Ray kept that fascination alive. Scarface easily could have been a narrative maze like other gangster pictures - namely, the latter two Godfather films and GoodFellas - are. The case to make rapid cuts to make the actors’ jobs much easier is a compelling one. Yet there are quite a few uncut, extended scenes that are excellent in their fluidity such as the opening interrogation with the American immigration officials. The infamous chainsaw murder is the best example of De Palma’s restraint in this film. Though restraint is not a word often associated with this version of Scarface, De Palma and Pacino successfully capture the ghastly emotional impact of this scene without ever having to show victim’s body. Instead, De Palma, Greenberg, and Ray opt for quick cuts and plenty of reaction shots. Sometimes seeing a person’s reaction to a moment of madness can be as impactful as the moment itself.
Giorgio Moroder’s heavily synthetic score is an encapsulation of the 1980s and, as a result, is the most dated aspect of this picture. Moroder, who also composed the unforgivable score to a 1984 re-release of Fritz Lang’s silent film masterpiece Metropolis, just doesn’t know when to place his cues. The greatest film composers have a certain wisdom when they know their composed score just as well as the director knows his or her film. Those same composers know when to have their scores featured in the film and they know when to let the dialogue or action speak for themselves. Too many times Moroder’s electronics enter the film at the worst possible moment - all of which destroys any sense of tension and violent tension. As cool as the score may have been in 1983, it sounds quite dated today and it will not age well as the decades pass by.
Lines like “Say hello to my little friend!”, “You fuck with me, you fuckin’ with the best!”, and (now for the most cringe-inducing line) “This town like a great big pussy just waiting to get fucked” have all entered popular culture. As such, so many of these memorable lines - mostly for the worse and not for the better - have been twisted out of context and glorified. Scarface, too, is a misunderstood movie on so many fronts. It should be understood from the film’s harshest critics that Scarface is intentionally hyperbolic in every department (though, despite a disclaimer regarding the depiction of Cuban-Americans during the end credits, the whitewashing is unforgivable) and that such an approach is an entirely legitimate way to construct a film. On the other hand, more than a handful of Scarface's dedicated legions of fans (mostly young males) need to see the film again to realize that Montana is a narcissistic, misogynistic drug trafficker. By a certain point in the film, one may interpret his character to be beyond redemption (as I did… and that was early on). Though his depiction may have been made more sympathetic if De Palma decided to examine the psychological process leading from Tony Montana's exact reasons for fleeing Cuba with his family, initial penury in the United States, and ultimate embrace of unchecked narco-capitalism, De Palma opted to present Tony as blanker slate. This has created an ambiguity that - and this is purely an observation and not an attack on the film or anyone involved in its creation - has allowed more viewers to ignore the soul-destroying facets of Tony's machismo.
One wants to believe that Scarface's moral compass is pointing the correct way north and that it was made with humanistic, not anarchic nor violence-endorsing, intentions. I certainly believe that it does but one wouldn't be able to believe that talking to one of the film's more ardent supporters. The reputation of De Palma's film, for faults found its poor treatment of all of its supporting characters (the women are understandably poorly treated by Tony but are never developed beyond that) and irresponsible storytelling and casting, is as overblown as the film itself. At this present time in visual media where morally depraved, typically white or white-washed, antiheroes (with “anti”, not “hero”, being the key part of that word) dominate television fandoms and have become mindlessly venerated pop culture figures, Scarface seems to feed directly into that appetite. American cinema has always been a reflection of the evolving American society in which it was borne out of and vice versa. Scarface, which more follows the tenants set by The Godfather than the 1932 Howard Hawks original, seems almost as prophetic as Coppola’s piece.
My rating: 7/10
^ Based on my personal imdb rating.
BULLITT (1968) Cinematographer: William A. Fraker | Director: Peter Yates
Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz (July 31 and August 1, 1997)
ELEANOR POWELL AND “BUTTONS” DURING THE SHOOTING OF “LADY BE GOOD” (1941)
Soccer is still far enough below the radar in the United States for Robbie Keane to lead a relatively normal life in his adopted city of Los Angeles.
By Simon Stone
LOS ANGELES (BBC SPORT) — Intending to watch the US take on Belgium in the last 16 of the Fifa World Cup, the Republic of Ireland international was able to head into town with Los Angeles Galaxy technical director Jovan Kirovski in virtual anonymity.
The scene that confronted the former Wolves, Coventry, Leeds, Tottenham and Liverpool forward was a big surprise.
"The place was absolutely packed," says Keane, 34, who has been in California for almost three years, playing for Major League Soccer (MLS) side LA Galaxy.
"Jovan played 62 times for the United States. He said he had never seen anything like it and the difference to the previous World Cup was incredible. The whole country got hooked."
Despite a 2-1 defeat in extra time, US President Barack Obama was sufficiently impressed to make a telephone call to goalkeeper Tim Howard and skipper Clint Dempsey.
That personal message of congratulations from one of the most powerful men in the world could prove to be as significant as anything that happened on the pitch in Brazil.
The conversation may have lasted only 123 seconds, but soccer had been given a big thumbs-up by the White House.
That such a call would ever take place was pretty implausible a decade ago.
The article doesn’t mention the role of women’s soccer and its growth in the United States… but knowing how a lot of European media treats women’s soccer it’s not a surprise. Still, all and all a good, balanced read from Stone and it’s usually more insightful to read an outsider’s take on the growth of American soccer in any case.
halfwaythruthedark: I admittedly have not seen much of her work (five films in total, from what I counted, and a few in part)… but no matter if her character was not as well-treated like in The Black Swan or stunningly complex as in How Green Was My Valley… there’s a fierceness and an incredible energy in her performances. They’re sometimes understated as in How Green; sometimes quite explicit as in The Black Swan. She ain’t no passive heroine to be underestimated with and I think she’s a criminally underrated actress from what little I’ve seen. And no Oscar nominations or Honorary Oscars. Hmm. That’s something the Academy should take a look at.
Oh boy, I’m totally recording How Green Was My Valley next month so that my little sister watch with me as I - extremely unpopular opinion that accounts for cinephile sacrilege - think it’s one of Ford’s greatest films and better than The Grapes of Wrath. In any case, I probably caught the tail end of when AMC was actually American Movie Classics. I remember watching Patton on AMC once and they bleeped out George C. Scott bellowing “bullshit” to one of his subordinates. I never really paid too much attention to the AMC-TCM somewhat-rivalry way back then as I was still devouring some good cartoons and stuff. But yeah, one of those channels has sold out in the meantime. The one that hasn’t I consider almost family and I’m not alone!
halfwaythruthedark:Yeah unfortunately when you have the “Won’t she? Won’t she? Won’t she?” pseudo-romance going on in these older movies… the female lead eventually will no matter how many times she rebuffs all those advances. I didn’t get the ending to that part of the film at all.
But Tyrone Power was… yikes. And Maureen O’Hara is really pretty as always. (and to think she was at the TCM Film Festival this year and I was an hour and way too much money I can’t afford to spend away to seeing her and a few other people). “I loved it whenever this one was showing on TV once upon a time”… are we talking about when AMC was actually American Movie Classics or something or am I really that new to being a classic film buff?