The movie ‘Scarface’ is revered nearly 30 years later


PHILADELPHIA — The movie year is 1983.

The Oscar contenders include “The Big Chill,” “Yentl,” “Silkwood.”

The winner is “Terms of Endearment.”

Across the country, all the good little boys and girls line up to see “Return of the Jedi,” with its furry Ewoks.

Hollywood’s idea of an action movie is “Octopussy,” starring tea-sipping Roger Moore.

Then, in December, like a 20-ton hunk of crack plopped in the placid millpond of American movies, comes “Scarface.”

slaughter. Giant mounds of cocaine. Former pin-striped “Godfather” Al
Pacino dropping f-bombs in a Cuban accent, spraying Miami with gunfire,
getting high on his own supply, going out in a blaze of gory.

A typical review: “Wallows in excess and unpleasantness for nearly three hours.”

so, but nearly 30 years later, nobody’s rereleasing “Terms of
Endearment” in hundreds of theaters nationwide, and nobody is looking
for “Yentl” sneakers online, or wearing “Big Chill” denim and rhinestone
jackets, or preordering another special edition of “Octopussy.”

on the other hand, is more popular than ever. There’s a theatrical
reissue Wednesday (one day only), yet another special edition Blu-ray
coming next Tuesday, and a wealth of merchandise still selling online.

“Scarface” lives, and if it happens to live in infamy, that would please Tony Montana, played fearlessly to the hilt by Pacino.

Young actor Steven Bauer (Manny in the movie) remembers being mesmerized by Pacino’s full-tilt interpretation of Tony.

we were on the set, even when we were reading the script, we thought
this could be momentous. But when we were shooting it, there was also a
feeling of dread, and it came from the way that Al attacked that
character,” said Bauer, who hung out with Pacino in his RV, first in
Miami, then in Los Angeles, where the production moved after the crew
received death threats.

“I asked him, ‘Al, how do
you think people are going to respond to that? Right away, or in years
to come?’” Bauer recalled, mindful that moviegoers so closely identified
Pacino with his self-controlled Michael Corleone in “The Godfather.”

said, ‘People are either going to hate it or love it, but it’s not
going to be dismissable,’ “ Bauer remembered. “At the time, nobody
really knew. There were some people, even people on the set, who thought
this might go down in history as the worst movie ever made by really
talented artists. And for like the first year, that’s what most critics
thought, that it was a piece of (crap).”

personal investment in the movie was immense. He was an untested actor
with a few TV spots who’d passed on a starring role (“Running Brave,”
later made with Robby Benson) for an outside shot to play Manny.

(given name Esteban Echevarria) was the only main “Scarface” actor who
was actually born in Cuba, and was brought to the States at age 3 — and
he believed that his cultural input was essential.

back, he thinks it’s the reason producer Martin Bregman essentially
reserved the part for him, when the studio faced pressure to hire John
Travolta or Eric Roberts.

was a walking, talking reference source for the cast. He could, and
did, school actors (particularly Pacino) on the history and mind-set of
Cuban émigrés.

“I talked about my life, my dad’s
life, our culture, our self-deprecating sense of humor, our view of
ourselves of having been a people who lost our country,” he said.

Pacino modeled his accent on Bauer’s father.

put Al on the phone with my dad so he could hear Dad’s voice. Listen to
him tell jokes, tell stories, really get a sense of that so he could
use it when we started shooting in Miami.”

said the cast and crew weathered the bad reviews, and took much
satisfaction from the fact that “Scarface” did well at the box office
(16th among movies released that year).

Still, it
was many years before Bauer realized that “Scarface” had carved a
special niche for itself in American culture, adopted by hip-hop
artists, their fans, and eventually spreading further.

was watching TV one night and I heard Chris Berman announcing a home
run, and he uses Tony’s line, ‘Say hello to my little friend.’ And I
say, ‘Holy s — he’s seen ‘Scarface.’”

In the
months and years to come, he learned that just about everybody had seen
“Scarface” — the movie was to VHS and DVD what “Dark Side of the Moon”
was to record albums.

“People start telling me
about all the hip-hop guys who use the dialogue in their lyrics, all the
rappers on ‘MTV Cribs’ who’ve turned their homes into ‘Scarface’

Bauer laughs at the movie’s outrageous change in fortune.

“For a long time, it was like the movie had leprosy. Now it’s a classic. So this is a really beautiful time.”


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