Reflections on Scarface (Blu-ray DVD)

Scarface was reviled,” Oliver Stone remembered. “Talk about getting bad reviews—awful things were said about me, and I was just the writer!  But I thought it was a terrific picture.”

Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman was one of the early few who seemed to get it, writing, “that bloody, lopsided cocaine thriller had a memorable attraction: the itchy hostility of Pacino’s performance as Tony Montana, the Cuban crime boss who was such a glowering, paranoid fireball that he was like a walking id.”

Terrence Rafferty in Sight and Sound called it “a bitter dirty joke about the limits of capitalist ambition: you grow, you expand, you become a businessman, something hard and unyielding; and yet you can’t get in very far, you keep butting up against the harder surfaces of the culture.” Cher put it more succinctly. “I really liked it,” she said. “It was a great example of how the American dream can go to shit.”

The film built a cult following, and over the years it’s been given its due as a heavy influence among the hip hop world. Rapper Snoop Dogg claimed to watch the movie once a month. “I think any brother watching it can identify with what the main man is going through.” The band Blink-182 took its name from the number of times Tony Montana said “fuck.”

“Don’t fuck with me, don’t you fucking fuck with me, or I’ll blow your fucking head off, you fuck.”    “I’m Tony Montana. You fuck with me, you fuckin’ with the best!”  “I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.”   “In this country you gotta make the money first.  Then when you get the money, you get the power.  Then when you get the power, then you get the women.”    “Me, I want what’s coming to me….The world, chico, and everything in it.”   “So say goodnight to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, lemme tell you.  Come on.  Make way for the bad guy.”  “You wanna fuck with me? OK. You wanna play rough? OK. Say hello to my leetle friend.”

Oliver Stone remembered hearing some of his dialogue quoted on the streets of New York in 1983 and ’84. “Black kids were getting it, the future rap kids. There were also all these white lawyer clubs—white professional working men who’d get together for a drink and quote the dialogue. I’d often go places and hear that.”

Pacino also heard from fans of the film. “I hear lines quoted in the street everywhere I go,” he laughed, “and not the same lines either. I’m walking and somebody says, ‘Hey, Tony? Can I go now?’ These are the kinds of lines they quote.” I was once walking with him on Madison Ave. and 57th St. at 2 a.m. when the streets were deserted and from a distance we heard someone who had recognized him shout “Tony Montana!”  In Paris, while working on his Oscar Wilde project (WildeSalome) the concierge at the Hotel Athenee said to him, “I like the way you shoot a gun.” At the National Gallery in Dublin, where we had gone to view some paintings of Salome and John the Baptist, a group of teenage boys spotted him as we were about to descend in an elevator and started mock shooting at him. Pacino laughed and responded by shooting his invisible “leetle friend” submachine gun back at them.

Over the 28 years since Scarface came out Pacino and I have continued to marvel about how the film has taken on a life of its own and how we both somehow knew that we were right and the majority of critics were wrong in their initial assessment of the film. To this day it remains Pacino’s favorite movie, which is saying a lot when you consider his phenomenal first six films (Panic in Needle Park, The Godfather, Scarecrow, Serpico, Godfather II, and Dog Day Afternoon) and his Oscar-winning performance in Scent of a Woman.

“You and I saw Scarface before it came out,” Al recently said, “and we thought it would have a different kind of life.  How did we know that?  It was vilified, for the most part, when it came out—but here it is almost 30 years later and it’s still surviving with tremendous gusto. Why? Why did we know that at that time? It was because we related to it; we heard it, in a certain way.  The picture had a fire to it. That was part of Brian’s concept, to do everything in an extraordinary way—to have the violence blown up, the language blown up. The spirit of it was operatic.  It didn’t opt for sentiment but had an almost fable-like quality to it. It was probably the most popular picture I ever made, but the reaction to it was stranger than any of my other films. That picture did something to me. It was a lot of movie. You go to a movie, you get a lot of movie with Scarface.”

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