The irony & controversy behind the cult-classic ‘scarface’

Scarface is a film that represents the delusions of grandeur about a man living in an enclosed world of megalomania. Brian De Palma revealed that when Al Pacino came to meet, he was upset about the original script written. “I came up with an era that you went down with the writer. If the writer got fired, you walked. You didn’t go, ‘let’s get 3 or 4 more writers you like.’” De Palma was referring to what occurs in the contemporary era where writers are practically expendable. Brian De Palma revealed in his documentary De Palma, directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, that he, as the director, initially walked off amid the development of Scarface. Martin Bregman (Carlito’s Way), the film’s producer, hired Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon) and Oliver Stone (Any Given Sunday) to pen the script, to which they came up with the Cuban elements of the story set in Miami.

Tony Montana (Al Pacino) in Scarface (1983) Universal Pictures

Prior to this, Brian De Palma spent one year developing a project called Prince of the City (1981), a film that Sidney Lumet would gain further interest in. The studio behind the film, United Artists, fired Brian De Palma on Prince of the City. De Palma revealed in the documentary that Sidney Lumet stole the movie from him. The irony is that one year later, De Palma was offered to direct Scarface – a movie Sidney Lumet had spent a great deal of time developing. The controversies behind Scarface began with the Cuban citizens of Florida protesting the production, ultimately running it out-of-town, after De Palma had already commenced principal photography. The Cuban immigrants didn’t like the way their people were portrayed as gangsters. The production moved to California where Brian De Palma duplicated his Miami vision of “…acrylic backgrounds, tropical atmosphere, white suits, bright colors and pastels” by shooting in southern California, predominantly Long Beach. De Palma went on to explain that Al Pacino seared his hand from grabbing a hot gun while filming and was sent to the hospital, missing production for two weeks.

Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer) in Scarface (1983) Universal Pictures

In the documentary, Brian De Palma explains that the script for Scarface was inspired by factual information gained by Oliver stone who almost got killed in discovering riveting details while doing research. The gangsters Oliver Stone interviewed thought he was a decoy. De Palma added that he wanted the experience Stone had to be reflected in the final-cut of the film; most notably in the infamous bathtub chainsaw scene. The ratings board gave Scarface an X rating, three times. Once it was released, industry professionals and executives thought the movie was about Hollywood. It wasn’t until decades later where the film found its audience in the hip-hop community. Artists like NAS with his song The World is Yours and Mariah Carey Featuring Jay-Z in her video for Heartbreaker were influenced by the film. Many would argue that the artist Drake was inspired in his video for, Hold on, We’re Going Home.

Universal Pictures, 1983

In one way or another, reenactments and inspirations were inspired by the character of Tony Montana. De Palma admitted that he didn’t know anything about hip-hop and when Universal Pictures asked him if he would authorize the use of a hip-hop soundtrack for the movie, he said “Absolutely not.”  Scarface further found its audience by landing into the ethos of video gamers. The most popular game from 2002, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, implemented similar imagery and its backdrop of Vice City was greatly influenced by 1980s Miami.  In the first four years of the new millennium, Scarface became huge with memorabilia collectors within pop-culture. “Suddenly, I became a hot director.” De Palma said, referring to the surge in Scarface apparel sales and DVD purchases. This is a true testament to the notion of societal and cultural noise surrounding a film upon its initial release needing to dissipate in order to draw and accurate criticism of any given film. In 1983, Scarface was a controversial film being pushed out of production in Florida and contained graphic violence that kept receiving an X rating. In addition to the overall dissatisfaction from Universal Pictures, it left the feeling of tastelessness for critics and audiences. In a stunning twenty years after its release, the film found a vast audience and became a cult favorite. Not excluding the fact that since 1983, Oliver Stone has had a flourishing career in directing major feature films. To look back at their collaboration on Scarface in conjunction with the controversy and irony behind the making of the film is a phenomenal account.

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