Brian De Palma's Scarface is enjoying a limited theatrical run in connection with the 20th Anniversary DVD; it packs a wallop on the big screen. It's still over-the-top on every level: opulent set design, scenery-chewing acting, bloody violence, all mediated through Giorgio Moroder's disco dirge score, Oliver Stone's then-sharp politics (in the screenplay), and De Palma's meandering camera eye ("This is the first time that his camera's swoops and pans start to emote, to add substance to the narrative, to actually paint," says critic Ted G--although I'd say it was doing that as early as The Fury). If you're looking for your early-'80s fix, Scarface electrifies like a big, obscenely tall mound of blow (as opposed to Blow) shoveled toward the nose with the flat of the hand. Accept no substitutes (e.g, Kill Bill).

In any event, be sure to read Armond White's smart discussion of the movie's cult following, that is, the influence it had on a generation of youth more or less abandoned by the system who took it to heart as the template for the gangsta lifestyle:

On the new DVD, a 20-minute documentary made by music video director Benny Boom lets a platoon of hiphop-culture icons comment on what Scarface has meant to their lives and careers. P. Diddy, Method Man, Geto Boysí Scarface, Eve, Outkast and more express their admiration for Tony Montana, the Castro exile played by Al Pacino who took advantage of the 1980 Mariel boatlift and Miamiís Cuban criminal class to enter the drug trade, grasping after the vaunted American dream with brutal tenacity. This drama was the beginning of "gangsta" as an appellation for ruthless bravery. [...] (Def Jam has released a CD of songs by various rap artists influenced by Scarface. Itís a funny, melodramatic array, although it omits Public Enemyís "Welcome to the Terrordome" in which Flavor Flav imitates Tonyís "Who I trust? Me!")
White's film criticism, which appears weekly in the New York Press, gets better and better. He's one of the few critics tackling race and class issues in movies; his only major soft spot is an inexplicable devotion to Steven Spielberg. Check out his review of Clint Eastwood's Mystic River, an "A"-list film that just sounds horrible.

- tom moody 10-05-2003 7:37 pm

From the Guardian:

Brian De Palma had his tongue firmly in cheek when remaking the 1932 Howard Hawks original of Scarface, which starred Paul Muni. In the remake it's another diminutive nut-job, Pacino, in the role of Tony Montana - a Cuban immigrant who becomes Mr Big in the cocaine business of the early 1980s (chopping up business partners and then chopping out lines on their glass table). De Palma knew exactly what he was doing by making it so offensive. He was setting a baseline for hard men that could also be read as a comedy, but only by the kind of liberals who'd get short shrift from Scarface's switchblade.

Because the film is ludicrous, it appeals to the ludicrously over-the-top lifestyle of the rapper who believes he's tougher than Tyson, wiser than Yoda and a sex machine to all the chicks. If ever you have the good fortune to catch MTV's Cribs, showcasing the homes of rap's self-styled legends, you'll notice that a pattern soon emerges. Here's a massive empty house in the Hollywood hills. Not much furniture to speak of (not a whiff of Ikea). But look: there's a massive tape-and-disc collection, a games console and DVD player, and Scarface placed strategically in view for the camera.

- tom moody 12-30-2003 9:12 am