$234.00

SCARFACE-Al Pacino ("The Runner-BLACK BACKGROUND") 2004
[Scarface]

SCARFACE-Al Pacino (\"The Runner-BLACK BACKGROUND\") 2004

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Date Added: Tuesday 01 April, 2008

by Paul Cunningham

*"Scarface"*
__From Gangland To Broadband__

*HOLLYWOOD - What a difference 20 years makes. When Brian De Palma's "Scarface" hit theaters in 1983, it was panned by critics and earned a paltry $45.6 million at the domestic boxoffice - enough to squeak by "Jaws 3-D" for the No. 16 position on the year-end rankings.

*"We were trashed," says Martin Bregman, the film's producer. It was Bregman and Universal Pictures who had taken a chance on Oliver Stone's audacious script about a ruthless Cuban immigrant's rapid rise and fall in South Florida's underworld drug trade, and it was De Palma and star Al Pacino who had turned it into an operatic testament to the dark side of the American dream.

*Today, "Scarface" resonates with a new generation of viewers that relates to the outsider status of Pacino's antihero and finds truth in the message of societal forces that reward - however fleetingly - aggression, naked ambition and greed.

*Roger Ebert, one of the few reviewers to weigh in positively upon the film's initial release, lauded "Scarface" for its ability to "take a flawed, evil man and allow him to be human," writing in the Chicago Sun-Times that Pacino "does not make (Tony) Montana into a sympathetic character, but he does make him into somebody we can identify with in a horrified way, if only because of his perfectly understandable motivations. Wouldn't we all like to be rich and powerful, have desirable sex partners, live in a mansion, be catered to by faithful servants and hardly have to work? Well, yeah, now that you mention it."

*But most observers did not see so deeply into a story that, on its surface, contains entirely raw violence. Combined with a performance by Pacino that was trounced roundly as over-the-top, the violence generated a ripple of notoriety - but not enough for the film to avoid becoming a commercial disappointment.

*Universal Pictures chairman Marc Shmuger believes that "Scarface" was ahead of its time, suffering in the long shadow of Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather" movies. To enter the epic gangster genre after 1972's "The Godfather" and 1974's "The Godfather: Part II" won a combined nine Academy Awards, he says, was an uphill battle.

*Only later would "Scarface" find its niche among the broadband generation, which finds Tony's Cuban swagger more relatable than that of the old-school Corleones, who seem quaint by comparison. That youthful embrace has propelled "Scarface" into a marketing juggernaut, with more than 40 licensees in the U.S. alone that make everything from T-shirts, jackets and skullcaps to comic books, money clips and even a die-cast model of a Cadillac, complete with a miniature Tony Montana in his famous white suit and smoking a cigar.

*Although the groundswell has bubbled up organically through bootleg goods, obscure musical references and the like, Universal's licensing group has been savvy enough to recognize an opportunity and take it to the next level. The latest installments in the "Scarface" merchandising phenomenon are the Vivendi video game "Scarface: The World Is Yours," and Universal Studios Home Entertainment's "Platinum Edition" DVD release, for which the film's sound effects and audio have been overhauled. Both products have launched into a market that has embraced "Scarface" as a part of pop culture.

*The hip-hop community has adopted the film as its rags-to-riches morality tale, and clips from "Scarface" have appeared in countless movies and TV shows including the 2004 feature "Meet the Fockers," in which a precocious baby hits a remote control and changes the channel from a children's show to a blaze of bullets. "Scarface's" classic "money line" - where Tony, about to open fire on a foe, sneeringly says, "Say hello to my little friend" - has echoed around the globe.

*"In one of my kids' middle school, there was a board, and every day there was a new quote - by (William) Shakespeare, (Mahatma) Gandhi, people like that," Shmuger says. "One day, the quote was, Say hello to my little friend.' It has become a touchstone; it has left a lasting impression on our culture in ways that nobody could have imagined when it was originally released in 1983."

*Adds Bregman, "It's a major part of pop culture, and not just in this country: You can go to Israel and buy T-shirts with Pacino's face in every souvenir store."

*"Scarface" was intended to be a remake of Howard Hawks' noirish 1932 mob drama of the same name, set in Chicago during that period. After producing 1973's "Serpico" and 1975's "Dog Day Afternoon," both starring Pacino, Bregman was seeking another vehicle for the actor. He approached De Palma, who began working on an adaptation with playwright David Rabe.

*When it became clear that the script was not working, De Palma dropped out, and Stone and director Sidney Lumet were brought in. Lumet came up with the concept of moving the film to 1980s Miami and turning the Al Capone-inspired lead character into a Cuban refugee who makes his fortune in cocaine.

*Stone, reportedly battling cocaine addiction at the time, took the idea and ran with it. When he submitted his draft, though, Lumet had problems with it - so Bregman, who liked what Stone had written, turned back to De Palma.

*De Palma liked Stone's graphic, violent script, and soon he and Pacino traveled to Miami, immersing themselves in the local culture. Big-screen newcomer Michelle Pfeiffer was cast as Pacino's girlfriend, and the supporting cast was filled out by several Latin Americans including Cuba-born Steven Bauer, then married to Melanie Griffith.

*Crews began to set up the shoot in summer 1982, but trouble began almost immediately. A group of Cuban immigrants protested what they felt would be a slam on their culture, and a Miami city commissioner threatened to introduce a bill that would ban the shoot from taking place there unless Pacino's character was turned into a Communist spy sent by Fidel Castro.

*An agreement was reached to screen "Scarface" before a group of Cuban-American leaders who could (and did) tag it with a disclaimer, but the filmmakers, fearing further repercussions, moved most of the production to Los Angeles. The Miami internment camp seen in the movie was built beneath the Santa Monica and Harbor freeways, and the Little Havana cafeteria in which Tony works is actually a restaurant in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo.

*"Scarface" was pegged for U.S. release on Dec. 9, 1983, but the MPAA's Classification and Ratings Administration gave it an X rating that October for "cumulative violence," and the movie underwent several hasty edits. When the X rating stood after four go-rounds, the filmmakers appealed - and the final vote was 17-3 in favor of an R rating, clearing the way for a wide release.

*But things would get worse: Reviews went from bad to scathing, and the filmmakers were lambasted for the movie's excessive violence.

*"Even in our test screenings, the movie wasn't playing well," says Shmuger, who saw the film in a New York theater long before he joined Universal. "I was just stunned; I didn't know how to take it. The Godfather' had seemed so perfect and proper, but Scarface' just felt so aggressive."

*"Scarface" earned only $4.6 million during its opening weekend and wound up grossing $45.6 million during its initial theatrical run - hardly the makings of a blockbuster. Slowly but surely, though, a cult following developed, primarily among young urban audiences who kept coming back for repeat viewings.

*In 2003, while preparing the release of a 20th anniversary "Scarface" DVD, Universal conducted a second round of test screenings - and met with markedly different results.

*"We put a print in front of audiences on the West Coast and the East Coast because we wanted to see if it would stand up as a theatrical release again in Los Angeles and New York, and scores were through the roof," Shmuger says. "The movie hadn't changed; what had changed was the audience and the culture."

*Not only was the graphic violence more palatable to viewers raised on films like 1994's "Natural Born Killers" and video games like Midway's "Mortal Kombat" franchise, but also the premise of "Scarface" resonated among the test-screen throng.

*"The whole story of trying to fight your way up, by hook or by crook or by violence - of doing anything to achieve the American dream - became something of an anthem to the hip-hop culture," Shmuger says.

*And the film's authenticity has endured. Says Bregman, "What makes all this possible, 23 years later, is a movie that is very much still a fresh and hot property."

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars! [5 of 5 Stars!]

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