KEN TUCKER BOOK EXPLORES SCARFACE PHENOMENON
A terrific new book by Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker looks at the Brian De Palma-directed Scarface as "the ultimate gangster movie," and explores "how it changed America." Scarface Nation is the title of the almost-300-page paperback, which Tucker has been promoting since its release last week. Last Tuesday (November 11), Tucker posted on The Best American Poetry blog about "what it’s like to send a book out into the world," and finding that his local Barnes & Noble store is only stocking two copies. On Wednesday, New York Magazine's Boris Kachka posted an interview with Tucker in which he asked the author why the Scarface cast and crew was "so reluctant to discuss its influence?" Tucker, who says that Al Pacino would talk to him about any Pacino movie other than Scarface, replied:
I think their interpretation of its acceptance in pop culture is that it somehow tarnishes the movie and they can’t understand that it’s what keeps it alive. I think they really ought to loosen up and embrace it. They should own their Scarface.
Tucker echoes Pauline Kael's estimation of Orson Wells' Citizen Kane when he calls Scarface a "shallow masterpiece," but he differentiates the two films in his book's introduction. He writes:
No, what Scarface is, in a sense, is something bigger, more outsized than [whatever it is that makes Citizen Kane "great"]. [Scarface] is a great and shallow masterpiece of pop, a work of diverse mongrel artistry. It's all surface, but, boy, what Brian De Palma, Oliver Stone, and Al Pacino applied to that surface. It glows, it glistens, it retains its sheen of power, glory, and shimmeringly decadent rot a quarter century after its release. It remains a tremendously exciting and dismaying piece of moviemaking, unique in the careers of every one of its various creators.
As a film and as a pop culture phenomenon, Tucker appreciates Scarface very much, and his book takes a non-linear approach in exploring both the origins of De Palma's film and the unpredictable journey it has taken since it was released 25 years ago this month. Delving into the "disreputable and sneaky" way the film has and continues to seep into American culture (via posters, T-shirts, mansions, parties, etc.) Tucker concludes that "Scarface belongs to no single author, and therefore we are all free to be the auteurs of Tony Montana's saga, and his life everlasting."
TUCKER SAYS GOODNIGHT TO THE BAD GUY
I will write more about this book later this week, delving into some of Stone's thoughts on the film via a new interview for Tucker's book. At the end of Scarface Nation, Tucker acknowledges that he consulted the "superb" De Palma a la Mod, as well as Bill Fentum's "invaluable" (and unfortunately now defunct) website, briandepalma.net. Tucker was also able to get a few quotes from De Palma when he ran into the director during the 2005 Toronto Film Festival. Tucker closes his book with the following about that instance:
At that time, [De Palma] said he would sit down for a more extensive interview. He subsequently declined all my follow-up requests. I will refrain from using a Scarfacian imprecation regarding this behavior, and simply say goodnight to the bad guy.
I should also mention that throughout the book, Tucker displays a fondness for several of De Palma's films, especially The Fury, which he describes in loving detail as a way to delve into some of De Palma's stylistic themes. In this section, Tucker states, "The climax of The Fury is, in its way, just as bloody and tragic and 'operatic' as that of Scarface." However, as I loved Tucker's book overall, it pains me to say that he should have gone back and looked at The Fury more closely, because he gets certain significant facts about who was killing who and what actress was playing the one getting killed, etc., wrong. This leads Tucker to suggest inadvertantly that Gillian purposely killed a woman in a savage manner prior to meeting Robin, which simply is not true. But don't let that dissuade you from checking out this unique and otherwise well-informed book.
Also check out Michael Sragow's interview with Tucker.