I’ve never been a fan of Brian De Palma’s Scarface, which starred Al Pacino as a Cuban refugee who rises to the top of the Miami drug trade. Talk about the American dream.
Most critics of the time expressed disdain for DePalma’s ode to violence, drugs, violence, sex and violence – in that order. When I worked at a retail electronics chain – Video Concepts – that also movie rental stores in them (how quaint now), I got a heaping daily dose of that flick courtesy of my boss Tony Briscoe. Perhaps that’s where my disdain for it came.
But more than likely I just viewed it as one of those so rancidly over-the-top flicks that after one viewing it was no longer worth my time. But Briscoe ensured that I would suffer and suffer and suffer…
I’ve always had an open mind when it came to movies, but Scarface just left me cold. The violence – tame by today’s standards – played like a bad scene out of Caligula (not that there were any good ones in that movie). When Tony Montana (Pacino’s character) eventually breaks the cardinal rule of drug dealing (“Never get high on your own supply”), he does so with unabashed glee and some of the characters feel more like stereotypes and caricatures.
Apparently, I am way out of step with a lot of American film fans and other critics, some of whom probably grew up watching the movie. Go to IMDB.com and the film has a rating of 8.2, good enough for No. 147 of the Top 250 movies of all time. As for the online critics’ opinion aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, it has an approval of 88 percent among those who reviewed it at one time or another – primarily during its initial DVD release nearly a decade ago.
Why the look back? For a film to be almost 30 years old and generate the type of buzz that it still creates means that it’s struck a chord. Its fans can see it in a gloriously restored version tomorrow night presented by Fathom Events at area theaters. Universal Studios remastered the audio and visuals with an eye toward releasing it on blu-ray DVD next Tuesday.
No, I won’t be at any of the given theaters taking a peak at it. I won’t be buying the blu-ray. My opinion of it hasn’t changed very much over the years. However, when the American Film Institute puts a film on one of its revered Top 10 lists, at the very least you have to pay attention. There Scarface sits as the 10thbest gangster film of all time, according to the organization.
Personally, I can’t dispute their logic because when measuring whether a movie is a classic, you have to look beyond critics reviews and box office grosses to influence. Scarface? It’s as American as iPods and Facebook membership at least when looking at pop culture.
“Say hello to my li’l friend!” remains one of the most cited movie quotes in the past 30 years, thanks to Pacino’s robust delivery. However, it goes beyond one pithy line.
The film has become indelibly linked with gangsta rap culture with Scarface apparel at one time becoming ubiquitous to the music’s fans. Additionally, a healthy residual check has to show up at Pacino’s place for the number of shirts that are available and sold that feature his imposing mug. Fans can even plunk down hard-earned cash for T-shirts that feature cartoon types from Homer Simpson to Nintendo video game stalwarts the Mario Brothers to baby Stewie of The Family Guy.
That influence permeates gangsta rap music, even spawning a 23-track album – Music Inspired by Scarface – featuring rap luminaries such as Jay-Z, Ice Cube and Notorious B.I.G. Nevermind the mentions that the movie receives in rap songs.
Why does this movie continue to resonate? Think about what has happened to American in the years since it’s been released. Three wars, a couple of recessions with one being a borderline depression, massive deficits, a couple of economic booms and busts and the erosion of the middle class. As twisted as it may seem, Scarface – in this time and place – tells younger generations that they can indeed get their share of the American Dream – just be prepared to deal with the consequences.
However, is the movie a classic? Personally, I say no. But I’ve been wrong before.
Scarface can be seen at these Cleveland-Akron area theaters:
Regal Severance Stadium 14
Cinemark 24 Valley View
Regal Hudson Cinema 10
Cinemark Southpark Mall
Regal Crocker Park Stadium 16
Regal Montrose Movies 12
Cinemark Tinseltown North Canton
Tickets are $12.50 and available at Fandango.com