“Okay, here’s the Story. I come from the gutter. I know that. I got no education, but that’s okay. I know the street, and I’m making all the right connections. With the right woman, there’s no stopping. I could go right to the top.”
I can’t recall a film that has grown so much in stature as “Scarface” (1983). When it first opened it was received with mixed to negative reviews. SBIFF’s beloved friend Leonard Maltin wrote that it “”wallows in excess and unpleasantness for nearly three hours, and offers no new insights except that crime doesn’t pay.” It went on to become a box office hit, and to inspire other films, and it has had a lasting impact on hip hop artists. When the film was re-released in 2003, director Brian De Palma nixed Universal Studios’ attempt to replace the original soundtrack with a rap score.
I was in cinema heaven back in 1983, fresh out of high school and seeing it at the Ziegfeld movie palace on West 54th street. At the time, I was seriously puzzled by the critics’ reaction to the work. “My father took me to the movies,” says Tony to the Feds, explaining his knowledge of the English language. “I watch the guys like Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, I learn how to speak from those guys. I like those guys.” I believe the original detractors were turned off by the fact that Tony is ruthless, unscrupulous and fearless. He doesn’t change. It’s an unrepentantly decadent and amoral world we navigate for the entire running time. There are no redeeming qualities in this thoroughly unattractive protagonist. He’s laser focused on his greed and ambition, and that’s why we root for him. It’s a bitter take on the American dream.
There is one scene that caused walkouts even before it was finished: the notorious chainsaw sequence leads you to believe that you’re seeing graphic details of dismemberment. De Palma has the camera drift past the action unto the street and then return. Things transpire out of sight, but the built up tension is there, and I can imagine it proves unbearable for some to imagine what actually happened. Throughout the film there’s a sense of inevitability in the journey of Tony. The house of cards that he’s built (in this case it’s a gaudy, opulent mansion of gilded marble stairs and questionable taste which by the way was shot in Santa Barbara at El Fueridis) will ultimately fall down. It’s gravity.
It’s vulgar, excessive, decadent entertainment. There are some extraordinary set pieces besides the aforementioned botched drug deal. The shootout at the Babylon Club and the altercations that precede it are tremendous. The location is bathed in pink neon lighting, and repetitive mirrors line up the walls recalling Orson Welles’ “Lady from Shanghai.” Two henchmen wait to pounce on a strung-out on cocaine Tony. A creepy comic with a grotesque mask – “the one and only Artemio” – dances with the crowd, and the machine guns explode. (For your information, the two assassins are shown to you earlier in the film, as they’re seated in front of Tony and Manny on the bus to Freedom Town. Nice poetic touch, since Tony himself is offered a green card to make a killing. )
The music by composer Giorgio Moroder, who has won three Academy Awards including one for scoring “Midnight Express” (1978), captures with its electronic sound Tony’s cold and unrelenting drive at 156 beats per minute. It’s one of the most memorable. The song “Push it to the Limit,” which is used to demonstrate Tony’s rise in wealth and position after he kills Frank Lopez (a fantastically sleazy Robert Loggia) and takes over as the head cocaine traffic in Miami, has been used to score dark horse characters in “South Park” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” amongst many other instances.
This is still my favorite De Palma work with his signature slow sweeping, panning and tracking shots, through precisely-choreographed long takes lasting for minutes without cutting. Study the infamous scene in the bathroom. It’s delicious. He knows how to tease. The finale that threatens to derail into kitsch is perfectly over-the-top recalling Macbeth as the forest of assassins moves in on him. In this testosterone-filled environment, the two women in Tony’s world make an indelible impression. A very young Michelle Pfeiffer – rail thin and eyes like a shark – is his trophy wife, and she’s heartless and a perfect object of desire for him. As Tony’s incestual obsession, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is heartbreaking as the innocent sister who goes to the dark side. And what can I say about Al Pacino as Tony that hasn’t already been said? It’s a master class in total commitment, the accent, the swaggart, the physicality, they are absorbing. It’s on the verge of the precipice but never becomes a caricature. It’s miles apart from his quiet work as Corleone.
Tony Montana : “You wanna f*%k with me? Okay. You wanna play rough? Okay. Say hello to my little friend!”
Available to stream on Netflix and to rent on Microsoft, iTunes, Vudu, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, Google Play, FandangoNOW, Vudu, Redbox, DIRECTV and AMC Theatres on Demand.
Screenplay by Oliver Stone
Directed by Brian De Palma
Starring Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia, Miriam Colon, F. Murray Abraham and Paul Shenar
Screenwriter Oliver Stone on “Scarface”
“The origins of the movie, it’s an interesting story. I had directed ‘The Hand’ and it had failed at the box-office, I was completely ignored. In fact, it took a heavy hit, ‘The Hand.’ If you go back and check the reviews, there was a lot of personalization in the reviews. It was probably because ‘Midnight Express’ really hit people hard and some people went after me. It was also a period in my life when I also needed inspiration. I didn’t have inspiration at the time, I felt stale as a writer. (Producer) Martin Bregman had approached me and I said I wasn’t interested in doing it. I didn’t like the original movie that much, it didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, Al had seen the thirties version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor / partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece.
Then he called me months later, Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal. Sidney, who I had met from ‘Platoon,’ was a New York director and he had worked with Al quite a bit. So there was a lot of linkage there. Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930’s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea. The Marielitos at the time had gained a lot of publicity for their open brazenness. The Marielitos were the quote “crazies.” They were deported by Castro in 1981 to America. At the time it was perceived he was dumping all the criminals into the American system. According to the police enforcement in Miami Beach, they were the poorest people, the roughest people in the prisons who would kill for a dollar. How could you get this outlandish, operatic character inside an American, contemporary framework? It’s very difficult if you think about it. Al is a brilliant actor. I worked with him on ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ in 1978. He was genius in a room. And I saw the rehearsal for ‘Born on the Fourth’ of July in 1978 with a full cast. He was on fire in that wheelchair, fire! It stayed with me for ten years…” (creativescreenwriting.com)
About Cinematographer John Alonzo
…Born in Dallas, of Mexican parents, Alonzo spent much of his childhood in Mexico, and first appeared in the movies in an uncredited bit part of a peasant in “The Magnificent Seven” (1960). He continued to play Latino stereotypes, in the soap-operatic “Susan Slade” (1961) and
“Invitation to a Gunfighter” (1964) among other films, before deciding to work behind the camera. Aside from Wong Howe, his mentor was director Martin Ritt, with whom he worked on seven pictures, including “Conrack” (1974) and “Norma Rae” (1979). However, the liberal and literal-minded Ritt was not a visual stylist, and Alonzo’s contribution was more distinctive on atmospheric thrillers such as Dick Richards’s “Farewell My Lovely” (1975) and Brian De Palma’s “Scarface” (1983). In 1978, he directed his only feature, FM, a sympathetic look at radio disc jockeys blasting out familiar rock songs, although he did direct a few television movies…When the director Roman Polanski replaced the 66-year-old cinematographer Stanley Cortez with 40-year-old John Alonzo on “Chinatown” (1974), it reflected a change in Hollywood in the 1970s. Polanski found the old-guard methods of Cortez – renowned for having photographed “The Magnificent Ambersons” and “The Night Of The Hunter” – much too slow and meticulous…His first feature as a cinematographer had been Roger Corman’s low-budget “Bloody Mama” (1970), and he knew how to work quickly under pressure. He was one of the new breed of filmmakers, willing to adapt to new techniques and more location filming. On “Chinatown,” he had to shoot in colour, but in a way that often suggested monochrome. Afterwards, he recalled: “Roman said, ‘Johnny, please no diffusion on the lens; I don’t want a Hollywood look.’ So I borrowed an idea that the great Jimmy Wong Howe had told me about. I used Chinese tracing paper to shift the light and colour, so that it turned beige and gold. Roman liked it.” Alonzo was Oscar-nominated for his work on Polanski’s neo-noir masterpiece. His use of soft focus and saturated colour to convey the look of 1930s Los Angeles was much imitated. Wong Howe helped Alonzo by making him second camera operator on John Frankenheimer’s “Seconds” (1966), which created a nightmarish atmosphere with a series of distorting lenses. At the time, he had then been working as an actor… As cinematographer on the excellent TV movie “Fail Safe” (2000), he chose to shoot in a digital medium because, “there are things that cannot be done in a film lab, things that mathematics can’t do, but digital can. You can isolate a frame, change the colour if you want, paint it differently and have the results right there to see.” Alonzo… was the first Mexican-American to be admitted to the American Society of Cinematographers. (theguardian.com) Alonzo passed away in 2001.
About Composer Giorgio Moroder
As the founder of disco and an electronic music trailblazer, Giorgio Moroder made his mark as an influential Italian producer, songwriter, performer and DJ. At 74 years old, Moroder still has his hands in the center of EDM culture, swinging back into the spotlight in 2013 as a guest collaborator on the GRAMMY Award-winning Daft Punk album “Random Access Memories” (“Album Of the Year”), new remixes for Donna Summer, Haim and his “Scarface” motion picture soundtrack, a newfound station as an acclaimed live DJ at major global festivals and clubs, and a forthcoming new album of collaborations. Over the course of his career, Mr. Moroder has worked with some of the most famous names in music including Barbra Streisand, Elton John, Cher, Janet Jackson and David Bowie. He is heavily noted for being the key player in the Queen of Disco Donna Summer‘s rise to fame throughout the 1970s, collaborating with her on her biggest hits including “Love To Love You Baby,” “Hot Stuff” and “I Feel Love.” In 1997, Moroder and Summer won the Grammy Award for “Best Dance Recording” for the song “Carry On.” He recently teamed with Verve records to honor Summer with “Love To Love You Donna,” a collection of her most notable hits remixed by Afrojack, Hot Chip, Laidback Luke, Masters at Work and others. Giorgio Moroder’s music charted success everywhere the disco craze touched down but he is also responsible for some of the most classic film scores to date including “Scarface” and “Midnight Express,” as well as timeless soundtrack numbers like “Take My Breath Away” (Top Gun), Irene Cara’s “Flashdance,” Blondie’s “Call Me” (American Gigolo), as well as compositions on films such as “The NeverEnding Story,” “Superman III,” “Rambo III” and “Beverly Hills Cop II.” From these, Moroder has accumulated three Academy Awards, four Golden Globes, four Grammys and more than 100 gold and platinum records. Giorgio Moroder was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2004.
Originally from Val Gardena-Dolomiti, Italy, Giorgio Moroder spent his early years in music touring Europe; playing bass and guitar in pop-oriented ensembles. He first gained popularity in Munich, where in 1969, the release of his single “Looky Looky” was awarded a gold disc. He eventually teamed up with Pete Bellotte and Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby”, the song that is now credited with starting the popular, worldwide disco craze. Moroder has worked with several of the biggest names in music, including: Barbra Streisand, Elton John, Cher, Roger Daltrey, Janet Jackson, Freddy Mercury, David Bowie, Chaka Khan, Cheap Trick, and Pat Benatar. Among his biggest hit singles are Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” and “I Feel Love,” Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” David Bowie’s “Putting Out the Fire” and Blondie’s “Call Me.” His many innovative film scores include three Academy Award winners. The first came for his score to the 1978 film “Midnight Express.” The second recognized was Irene Cara’s inspirational hit, “Flashdance,” from the film of the same title. Lastly, “Take My Breath Away” from the film, “Top Gun,” brought him his third Academy Award. Compositions by Moroder have also contributed to numerous other hit films such as “Superman III,” “Rambo III,” “Beverly Hills Cop II,” anad the score for the 1983 gangster epic, “Scarface.” In 1998, he received his third Grammy for the song “Carry On,” performed by Donna Summer, among countless other awards and honors. Moroder’s creativity has also entered the realms of sports and global affairs. He wrote the songs “Reach Out” for the 1984 Olympics, “Hand in Hand” for the 1988 Olympics, the worldwide hit song “Un Estate Italiana” for the 1990 Soccer World Cup in Italy, and “Forever Friends” for the 2008 Summer Olympics. In 2013, he collaborated on the song “Giorgio by Moroder” with acclaimed electronic duo, Daft Punk, ushering a resurgence of Moroder’s work and earning his 3rd Grammy award. As of 2014, Giorgio Moroder has performed around the world at shows including Vivid Fest, Moogfest, Wireless Festival, Les Ardentes, and Pacha Ibiza. His album “Deja Vu,” which was released on Sony/ RCA in 2015 featured collaborations with Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, Charli XCX, Matthew Koma, Mikky Ekko, Sia and more. The album reached number one in the US on the Billboard dance/electronic charts… (giorgiomoroder.com)
About Screenwriter Oliver Stone
Stone, the son of a wealthy stockbroker, was raised in New York City. He briefly studied at Yale University before dropping out to teach English in South Vietnam. Upon his return, Stone lived in Mexico for a year and again attended Yale for a short period. In 1967, during the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He distinguished himself in combat, earning two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. Stone then enrolled in film school at New York University (B.A., 1971), studying under director Martin Scorsese. Stone was deeply affected by his war experiences, and his student films, such as “Last Year in Viet Nam” (1971), dealt directly with the consequences of the Vietnam conflict. After graduating, he directed the horror movies “Seizure!” (1974) and “The Hand” (1981), the latter of which starred Michael Caine. Stone also began experimenting with screenwriting, and he won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for “Midnight Express” (1978), which was based on the true story of a man brutally abused while imprisoned for drug smuggling in Turkey. Stone devoted much of the early 1980s to writing screenplays, including “Conan the Barbarian” (1982), “Scarface” (1983), which was directed by Brian De Palma and starred Al Pacino, and “Year of the Dragon” (1985). He returned to directing with “Salvador” (1986), which he also wrote. In the film, a journalist (played by James Woods) documents the atrocities committed during the El Salvador uprisings of 1980–81. Stone again drew on the trauma of the Vietnam War in “Platoon” (1986), for which he won another Academy Award, this time for directing. The film navigates the perils of war from the perspective of a new recruit who quickly realizes that the idealism that motivated his decision to enlist was misguided. Stone drew upon personal experience once more for “Wall Street” (1987), using memories of his father’s career as a stockbroker to conjure an indictment of the greed and deceit governing the financial world. In 1988 he adapted Eric Bogosian’s Off-Broadway play “Talk Radio” to film.
Stone emphasized the continuing ramifications of the Vietnam War with “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989). The film, based on the autobiography of Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, chronicles the evolution of a young man, played by Tom Cruise, from patriotic soldier to paraplegic anti-war activist. Stone won an Academy Award for directing that movie and received a fourth career nomination for his writing. The year 1991 saw the release of both “JFK,” a polarizing investigation of the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy, and “The Doors,” a stylish account of the rise and fall of the titular American rock band. In “Heaven & Earth” (1993), Stone approached the Vietnam War and its aftermath from the perspective of a young Vietnamese woman. Stone again courted controversy with “Natural Born Killers” (1994), a film, written by Quentin Tarantino, about the savagely violent exploits of a married couple, played by Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis…Stone then cast Anthony Hopkins in the title role of “Nixon” (1995), a measured take on the life of the U.S. president. He also developed the screenplay for “Evita” (1996), an adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical about Argentine politician Eva Perón (played by Madonna). Stone revisited some of his favoured motifs, power and violence, in “Any Given Sunday” (1999), about professional football, and in “Alexander” (2004), a…biography of Alexander the Great. “World Trade Center” (2006), a retelling of the events of September 11, 2001, from the viewpoint of two police officers, returned Stone to the centre of public debate… “W.” (2008), his biopic of Pres. George W. Bush, drew fire from both extremes of the political spectrum for its refusal to pass definitive judgment, positive or negative, on its subject.
Stone later directed “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (2010), a sequel to the 1987 film that was set amid the global financial crisis of 2008, and “Savages” (2012), an ensemble thriller about marijuana trafficking that, in its depiction of seedy mayhem, was reminiscent of his earlier “U Turn” (1997). “Snowden” (2016) centres on the real-life American intelligence officer who exposed the NSA’s secret surveillance programs by leaking classified documents. In addition to directing and writing, Stone produced many of his own movies. Besides narrative films, he made documentaries about Latin American politics: “Comandante” (2003), about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and “South of the Border” (2009), which focused on several other left-wing leaders, notably Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chávez. He revisited both leaders in the documentaries “Castro in Winter” (2012) and “Mi amigo Hugo” (2014; “My Friend Hugo”). With Peter Kuznick, he also created Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of the United States” (2012), a 10-part television documentary (and accompanying book) that took an unorthodox look at the preceding century of American political history. The four-part TV series “The Putin Interviews” (2017) featured conversations between Stone and the Russian president. Stone’s books included a semi-autobiographical novel, “A Child’s Night Dream” (1997), and the memoir “Chasing the Light: Writing, Directing, and Surviving Platoon, Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador, and the Movie Game” (2020). (britannica.com)
About Director Brian De Palma
Brian De Palma was born on September 11, 1940, in Newark, New Jersey…De Palma, who was the son of a surgeon, became interested in movies during college. After receiving a B.A. from Columbia University in New York City (1962), he accepted a theatre fellowship at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York (M.A., 1964). While there he co-directed (with Wilford Leach and Cynthia Monroe) the feature-length film “The Wedding Party” (1964; released 1969). The comedy featured early career performances by Robert De Niro and Jill Clayburgh. De Palma’s first solo features were “Murder à la Mod” (1968) and “Greetings” (1968), the latter of which was set in Greenwich Village and starred De Niro. After the 1970 experimental film “Dionysus” (also known as “Dionysus” in ’69; codirected with Richard Schechner), De Palma wrote and helmed “Hi, Mom!” (1970), the sequel to “Greetings,” with De Niro as a would-be pornographic filmmaker. It brought De Palma to the attention of the major studios, and Warner Brothers signed him in 1970 to make what they considered to be a counterculture comedy. However, the director was fired from “Get to Know Your Rabbit”- which was about a businessman (Tom Smothers) who decides to become a tap-dancing magician—and the film was finished by others; it was not released until 1972. De Palma rebounded in 1973 to make the cult thriller “Sisters”…It was the first of De Palma’s many homages to Hitchcock, featuring aspects of “Psycho” (1960) and “Rear Window” (1954) and music by Bernard Herrmann, who had scored a number of the British director’s films. “Phantom of the Paradise” (1974) was “Phantom of the Opera” retold as a rock musical, with stylistic references to several classic horror movies. It was a commercial disappointment, however, as was De Palma’s next film, “Obsession” (1976), a recycling of “Vertigo” (1958). In 1976 De Palma registered his first major hit with “Carrie,” a thriller based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King…De Palma’s success continued with “The Fury” (1978), another thriller about telekinesis, though set in a world of political intrigue…After the little-seen comedy “Home Movies” (1980), De Palma wrote and directed the controversial “Dressed to Kill” (1980)…De Palma next made “Blow Out” (1981), a conspiracy-theory thriller based on his own original screenplay. A tribute to Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow-Up” (1966)…De Palma then made “Scarface” (1983), an…updating of Howard Hawks’s 1932 gangster classic…
…The director then made “Body Double” (1984), about a young actor (Craig Wasson) who thinks he has witnessed a murder through his telescope—yet another of De Palma’s homages to Hitchcock’s Rear Window…De Palma shifted gears with the comic “Wise Guys” (1986)…”The Untouchables” (1987)… marked a return to form for De Palma. With a script by David Mamet, the drama chronicled federal agent Eliot Ness’s war against Al Capone in 1930s Chicago…the film earned arguably the best reviews—and biggest grosses—of his career to that point. Stretching in yet another direction, De Palma made the Vietnam War drama “Casualties of War” (1989), a David Rabe-scripted tale based on an actual incident…The film received generally positive reviews, but it failed to find an audience. Stung by that indifference, De Palma plunged into a big-budget adaptation (1990) of “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” Tom Wolfe’s best-selling novel of greed and corruption. In the end, “The Bonfire of the Vanities” became one of the most-notable failures in cinematic history. (A blow-by-blow account of the troubled movie’s production is chronicled in reporter Julie Salamon’s book “The Devil’s Candy” .)…In 1996 De Palma directed “Mission: Impossible”…Loosely based on the television series (1966–73), it helped launch a blockbuster franchise starring Tom Cruise as a secret agent. De Palma, however, directed only the first installment, which also featured Jon Voight, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Jean Reno…”Mission to Mars” (2000)…failed to find an audience, and the thriller “Femme Fatale” (2002) was a return to his earlier works. Directed and scripted by De Palma, it offered Antonio Banderas as a photographer and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as a jewel thief…”The Black Dahlia” (2006), set in 1947 Los Angeles, was a…adaptation of James Ellroy’s noir novel about two policemen (Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart) investigating the grisly murder of an aspiring actress. De Palma also directed the Iraq War drama “Redacted” (2007), which recounts the rape and murder of a young Iraqi girl by American soldiers, and the revenge thrillers “Passion” (2012), starring Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace, and “Domino” (2019). (britannica.com)