Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Who could have predicted that Brian DePalma's 1983 "Scarface" (screening tonight as a Fathom event and coming out for the first time on BluRay September 6) would become such a cultural icon?
Brian DePalma's "Scarface" is a remake of the gritty 1932 gangster pic of the same name and originally directed by Howard Hawks. In some ways, Hawks' film had almost as powerful an impact on audiences of his time as DePalma's film has proven to have on contemporary pop culture. The power of both films is the central character -- one an Italian immigrant, the other Cuban -- who start with nothing and through perverse pursuit of the American Dream, climb to the top and fall tragically. Both films delivered an in-your-face and unapologetic gangster, and each in its own way, came to audiences as fresh and excessive. In 1932 it was Paul Muni as Antonio 'Tony' Camonte, and in 1983 it was Al Pacino as Tony Montana. Pacino's gangster has so far proven more durable as a pop icon, but both made a brutal assault on audiences.
Tonight you can catch "Scarface" on the big screen for a one night only Fathom special event and on Tuesday the film comes out on BluRay for the first time. The special edition is nicely packaged with a copy of Hawks' original "Scarface" for comparison. I highly recommend watching both, each has its own charms.
DePalma's "Scarface" -- with a script by Oliver Stone -- was an excessive, operatic epic that seemed to coincide perfectly with the rise of hip hop and gangster culture. There was even a 2003 Def Jam Recordings compilation of songs inspired by the movie. You can even find teenagers today sporting Tony Montana t-shirts or with life-size cardboard cutouts of Montana and his little friend standing watch over their bedrooms. It's an amazing phenomenon and something that no one in Hollywood could have purposely engineered.
The film has stirred controversy too, getting blasted for racial stereotypes and fostering negative images of Cuban Americans. But DePalma's "Scarface" is not of the real world. It lives in a land of excess where the sheer audacity of its extremism is what makes it so iconic. Plus it taps into something very primal in its portrait of a man who resents the huge gulf between the have's and have not's, and is willing to do whatever it takes to prove -- mostly to himself -- that the American Dream is not a lie. You can criticize "Scarface" for many things but one thing you cannot deny is its fevered energy. Pacino has done far more subtle work but nothing with this level of ferocity. He has never been more riveting or seemed to be having so much fun.
The film's popularity is also reflected in all the collectibles fans can find like this upcoming toy (I use the word loosely) from Blitzway.
So here's to "Scarface," a seemingly indelible pop culture icon. I even named my son after Tony Montana. I'm not quite sure what that says about the film or about me, but if my son grows up to be a gangster, I guess I have to take full responsibility. But maybe he'll just embrace Tony Montana's idea that "The world is yours," and go after it with gusto. But no matter what you think of the films and its ardent fans, "Scarface" has made its violent mark.