OLIVER STONE, KEN TUCKER, MOVIE GEEKS
Movie Geeks United! paid tribute to the 25th anniversary of Scarface last Sunday by interviewing Ken Tucker, author of the recent Scarface Nation. The show also featured clips of the Geeks' previous interviews with Brian De Palma and Steven Bauer, as well as trivia and discussion of the film. Click here to listen to the Scarface show. On last Wednesday's show, the Movie Geeks interviewed Mark Margolis, who played Alberto the Shadow, the assassin whose lack of morals leads Tony Montana to draw a violent line in the sand. Discussing the filming of that scene with the Geeks last night, Margolis said that in between takes, Al Pacino did a lot of "lame" talking about locker room-type subjects. Margolis was wondering for an hour and a half what he was doing there listening to such uninteresting and uninspired machismo, and then suddenly came to the realization that Pacino was in fact talking in character-- it wasn't Pacino talking, but Tony Montana, 24-7.
STONE RESPECTS DE PALMA FOR CHOOSING HIS OWN APPROACH
Oliver Stone was interviewed by Tucker for Scarface Nation. We all know that Stone was at odds with De Palma for slowing down Stone's fast-paced narrative and excising dialogue scenes in favor of elaborate camera shots and long takes. Stone tells Tucker that had he been directing the film himself, he would have made it more "realistic and fast-paced, because it was more like, let's get to know this world. [But] Brian chose another approach, and I respect him for that."
In Tucker's book, Stone discusses some of the real life inspirations for his Scarface screenplay, and how De Palma added a oft-"excessive" operatic framework over the material that took liberty with logic. Stone is quoted as saying that certain things about De Palma's edits were sticking in his craw. "To me," Stone told Tucker, "what was being sacrificed was narrative sense and atmosphere."
OPERATIC FRAMEWORK, BUT LOGIC IS "REALLY LOOPY"
Stone elaborates on some of the issues he brought up in the memo he sent to producer Martin Bregman and Pacino in this excerpt from Tucker's book:
Stone's irksome memo addressed what he felt were "questions of logic. The film has a realistic base onto which was put an operatic framework. Which is okay-- it made the movie what it is, but for operatic purposes you don't throw out logic, and certain things were sticking in my craw. I think Brian had strayed--" Stone pauses here, looking for the right words before simply sighing and saying, "Sometimes his plot points are ridiculous. It's as if there's nobody keeping rational logic there. He's done certain things in other of his films too that are really loopy"-- Stone pauses to laugh almost affectionately-- "really loopy."
"A HONG KONG ACTION FILM BEFORE ITS TIME"
"I'll give you an example," Stone continues in Tucker's book...
It changes the nature of the film; it was so outrageous at this point, and Brian just kept going and going, and for some reason it works. Why does it work to have, I don't know, a hundred men go in there and shoot at Tony, all alone? I didn't know, I didn't see it, back then. [But] that's a Hong Kong action-film shoot-out before its time, right?
So despite Stone's misgivings, Tucker told Michael Sragow at the Baltimore Sun that Stone is a big enough man to say, "I have to hand it to Brian; he knew what he was doing. He captured something that was in the air." Part of what De Palma captured in the ending of Scarface may have been inspired by King Kong, with Tony Montana acting as the old-fashioned monster, defiantly fending off attackers from below as he sits on top of the world (which for the original King Kong would have been the Empire State Building). Indeed, it would seem as though De Palma could have read the script and, either consciously or subconsciously, amped up the threat to Tony Montana as an echo of the ending of the 1933 classic. The climax of King Kong is quite obviously referenced at the end of De Palma's 1962 short Wotan's Wake, so it is definitely a film on De Palma's radar.
In fact, in a 1997 Journal Of Film And Video article titled "At Work In The Genre Laboratory: Brian De Palma's Scarface," Tricia Welsch suggested that De Palma's film alludes to both Frankenstein and King Kong. For Welsch, this "postmodern hybrid" of the gangster film was problematic, as it alluded to the Cuban immigrant as a "monster." Welsch further felt that De Palma's reputation added an element of the slasher film to the mix, but it is also interesting to note that Stone himself began directing by making horror films like Seizure and The Hand (both made before writing Scarface), so Scarface as a horror/gangster hybrid seems valid from the ground up. In any case, De Palma spoke in those days of wanting to break out of genres and of creating new ones, and his free-wheeling sensibilities were perhaps most aptly described by critic Jake Horsley, when he referred to De Palma as a "pinball wizard."
A COUPLE MORE LINKS
Tucker was also interviewed recently by Craig D. Lindsey at the Philadelphia Weekly. Elsewhere, Tucker and Bauer are two of several people quoted in a Scarface 25th anniversary article posted by Lee Hernández three days ago at the New York Daily News.