DE NIRO AFTER PACINO / SCORSESE AFTER DE PALMA
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a la Mod:
Pepe Serna arrives carrying a big bag. Inside is a treasured bit of movie history: his prop arm from Brian De Palma's 1983 gangster masterpiece "Scarface."
Though he's been in some 100 films, Serna is best known as Angel, Tony Montana's (Al Pacino) cohort in cocaine crime in the memorable thriller. Angel meets a grisly demise when his arm and leg are dismembered by a power tool.
"They tied me up," recalls Serna. "It was a real chain saw but with rubber. When they went to my face, they shot blood at me with a pressure gun. The editor said when they shot me with blood in the eye, I didn't flinch. I was so into the moment. At the time, it was the goriest scene in history."
Serna, 70, flashes a wide smile and puts the arm back in the bag.
The role of Angel has paid unexpected dividends for him. Serna, who has done motivational work with kids for 50 years, has found that these young students are thrilled to meet him because of "Scarface." "We are all the writer-director-star-producer of our own life," says the energetic Serna, dressed this overcast afternoon in a vibrant purple sports jacket. "We see life through our own eyes. That is my lesson to these kids. That is how I always look at everything."
MORE 'SCARFACE' NOTES: PACINO SUPPORTS REMAKE; MICHELLE PFEIFFER AS POP MUSE
Last week I linked to a Hollywood Reporter story about Universal's upcoming remake of Scarface. The Hollywood Reporter's Hilary Lewis followed that up a day later, having caught up with the actor at the New York premiere of his new film Danny Collins. Asked about the new remake, Pacino responded, "Oh, it's fine... It's part of what we do. We remake things... I may remake a movie I saw recently. I can't say what it is. It's about 50 years old."
Meanwhile, the number one song in the U.S. for the past five weeks or so (according to Billboard) is Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' Uptown Funk. The song's first line is "This shit, that ice cold/ Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold." As USA Today's Carly Mallenbaum speculated back in December, the line, with its apparent cocaine reference, "seem[s] to be describing Pfeiffer’s feisty Elvira Hancock from Scarface." Mallenbaum's article also notes that Pfeiffer's name pops up in another recent top ten hit, Vance Joy's Riptide. In the latter case, however, Joy has said in interviews that the mention was inspired by Pfeiffer's role as Catwoman in Tim Burton's Batman Returns.
ON FILMING IN MIAMI, AMIDST THREATS FROM LOCAL COMMUNITY
"I did think they'd have killed us if we'd stayed in Miami. There were members of the community who hated us because they thought we were doing a pro-Castro movie, which was absurd, but their anger was very serious. And then there were real drug people around. Colombians who came on the set. The day a fellow sat down in the chair next to me, and crossed his legs, and I saw a gun strapped to his ankle, I knew I wanted to get back to Los Angeles. Thank God we did, within two weeks."
ON STAR AL PACINO
"Pacino was very nice. I had been told he was going to stay in character and all that, so I was prepared for it." Tucker writes that Pacino spoke to Norris with his Cuban accent, even through his wardrobe fittings.
REGARDING THE TENSION, EGO CLASHES ON THE SET OF 'SCARFACE'
"Let me put it this way. After Scarface, I almost didn't want to work in the movies again. You're making a movie that's not about nice people, being made by people many of whom aren't nice people... It was tense, pretty distant. I don't like being condescended to. I worked with David Lynch for over twenty-five years because he was a nice person and an artist, and he appreciates the artistry other people bring to their work.
"I didn't get that feeling with De Palma. He was tense a lot of the time; he could be cold and rude, dismissive. I don't think he liked clothes. I shouldn't say that-- the only clothes he was interested in were the women's clothes, Michelle's clothes. He and Marty Bregman both. They wanted a lot of input in how she should look-- it was more than a little creepy, if you ask me. I'd overhear them arguing about how she should be dressed, how sexy, how much skin they wanted her to show."
Meanwhile, on January 30th, prior to the Super Bowl, Grantland posted the video below to YouTube with the description, "Grantland has cell-phone footage of Bill Belichick at a team dinner addressing the scrutiny the Patriots have been under heading into Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona."
"The feature’s protagonists finally turn out to be Rob Brown, in his thirties, and Kevin Fineday, who’ll be 18 when the film ends. They are, respectively, a criminal with (as per the press notes) ties to the Native Gangster Disciples gang and his young and unofficial protégé of sorts, with the initially scrawny Kevin looking up to the hulking Brown, who’s been to prison already five times. Kevin, called a liar and worse by several others around him, admits on camera he’s torn between the idea of becoming a big drug dealer and 'doing something somewhat the right way,' though for the moment, he described himself as a 'middle man, for weed, pills, meth, whatever,' and says that’s pretty much his 'job until further notice'. In one of the film’s strongest scenes, which would have deserved a bit more prominence, Brown tells Kevin that he already spent 12 years in jail and Kevin’s only 15 years old. 'Don’t be like me and get used to it,' he says, though at that very moment, Kevin’s just told Rob he hopes he’ll get his first plea bargain.
"Brown, meanwhile, has impregnated his girlfriend of three months before he’s off to jail for another 57 month stint and Kevin has even followed his example in this respect, knocking up a girl who then lost the baby a couple of weeks into her pregnancy. She blames herself, saying she 'messed up' (not quite the term she uses) birth control and has since broken up with Kevin over the fact he 'messed' -- more f-words used here -- with several drugs deals for her, each time adding salt to the meth he’s selling so as to increase the weight. Clearly, any idea of a connection or some kind of affection between these two human beings seems far-fetched; Brown, despite the fact he’s about to miss out on the first two-and-a-half years of his daughter’s life, seems a little -- but just a little -- luckier in that respect.
"What thus emerges, initially in fits and starts but then more forcefully as the film builds and the relationships crystallize, is a picture of life in the reservation community of Pine Point (or 'P-Town') as a place where lying and cheating, scoring and selling drugs and a host of other criminal activities are the order of the day and something as normal as love and human warmth are in short supply, with even the rapport between Kevin and his father feeling distant. Drug use is filmed with an unflinching eye (though some of this footage is not as high-definition as the rest) while posters on the walls in the background attest to an unoriginal and unhealthy obsession with the Brian De Palma version of Scarface, which seems to have made being a gangster super cool, suggesting exactly none of the people of an entire generation watched the film al the way through until it’s bloody, tragic and supremely ironic ending."
"Scarface Redux" will be unveiled this Sunday (December 21st) at 8pm in Miami Beach, according to the Miami Herald's Debra K. Leibowitz. The screening will be one of the final events of this year's Borscht Film Festival, which began December 17th, and ends on the 21st. The Herald article states that Scarface Redux will play from 8-10pm, but it doesn't explain why that is about 45-minutes shorter than De Palma's film (perhaps they did not receive submissions for each of the 15-second clips). Leibowitz reports in the Herald: "A contest was held for the best scene submitted. Top prize included hotel and airfare for two to Miami, plus VIP tickets to all screenings and parties. Turns out the winner was local: Miami-based filmmaker Martell Harding, a 25-year old Florida International University graduate for his redux of Scene 94: The Shoot Up. Contest judges included Miami Herald film critic Rene Rodriguez, Rakontur Film’s Billy Corben and NBC-6 anchor Adam Kuperstein. Scarface Redux party fee is a $10 donation; free to those who submitted a clip."
Also screening at the fest this year is The Voice Thief, a new short film from Adan Jodorowsky, son of Alejandro Jodorowsky, starring Asia Argento. Borscht executive-produced the short, according to Miami New Times' Hans Morgenstern.
Lynch interviews Cave about the film, and at one point, asks him about a scene in which he watches Brian De Palma's Scarface with his twin boys:
[Lynch] There's a scene in the film where Nick is sitting with his twin sons, eating pizza and watching Scarface. Why that film?
Cave: It was just a film that they'd been on at me to watch. "We want to watch Scarface!" Maybe I'd talked about it or something. And I said, "Well it's got some scenes in it that are pretty heavy, do you think you're all right to watch it?" They said, "Oh, we've already watched the chainsaw scene on YouTube." We wanted to find a film that they hadn't seen, and they have seen a lot of that super violent stuff with me anyway. [My twin sons and I] had a thing we'd do that we'd sit down and watch a film that we shouldn't be watching together. It was a bonding experience.
[Lynch] What other movies do you watch with them?
Cave: Just...violent films. So we all wanted something that could hold them, and Scarface is such an opera -- an exaggerated cartoon of the world. That scene is probably my favorite -- not because it's got kids in it, but it sets up an idea. It's the one moment of Nick Cave supposedly at home, doing an ordinary thing with his kids. But it's not. I'm sitting there, the camera is here, we're looking into the camera -- we're not looking at the TV at all. So there's this sense of being removed from the ordinary, or that the ordinary has been taken away from us and it's something we're not able to reclaim. And that's true.
[Lynch] It's also one of the few scenes where we see you laughing.
Cave: That's just how it ended up. I laugh a lot actually, but you don't laugh a lot when the camera is on. There's a lovely outtake of Kylie and I that says a lot. We're in the car; they haven't started shooting but they're filming. We're talking about something, it's very light, and then they say 'action' and both of us [pantomimes stone face]. It's not that we're trying to portray anything, it's just the effect that it has over you. The claustrophobic, unfunny aspect of being filmed.
As Montgomery tells Harrisson about what viewers can expect series 2 to look like, he refers to such films as Heaven's Gate (for the look of series 1), The Godfather, Inception, Drive, and Scarface. Here's an excerpt:
Basically, Tommy’s empire has grown. You’ll see him moving to the metropolis of London and taking on the big gangsters that run London, so visually, you’re moving much more into bigger spaces, and you’re leaving behind a lot of the dark working-class world. Because they have money, and Tommy is beginning to use that money, he’s buying up houses in London. The world is opening up, it’s becoming much more expansive, and the spaces become bigger.
It becomes much more like a gangster world, the references become much more attuned to The Godfather rather than Heaven’s Gate. I was using Heaven’s Gate as a reference in season 1, [but] in season 2 the references are really to The Godfather. [Tommy’s] office is a total homage to The Godfather. There’s oranges on the table!
There are a lot of [other] references as well. For example, there’s a huge club called The Eden, which is a big metropolitan club, and again I like to reference things, so there’s a lot of little nods, winks – there’s a scorpion design that’s basically from Ryan Gosling’s jacket in Drive. I wanted to turn it into a really big nod to Inception, there’s a lot of gold. There’s a lot of gold within the whole series, actually, and that echoes season 1.
You’ll see loads of [references] that are just peppered through the whole of the look, and I think that’s playful. That was in the first season, ‘cause it was all from a lot of Westerns, Rio Bravo, Deadwood and all the rest.
[Harrisson] How much freedom do you have to do that, mixing in so many different references? Do you just not tell anyone?
I just do it, because it’s there! Steven [Knight]’s writing is so detailed, but allows you still to bring images and references to the party. So I’ve never felt constricted by what we’re doing, because it’s a mythology, it’s not strictly historically – it’s not a historical recreation, it’s very much a mythology.
Also, I’ve always brought a kind of Americana feel, like for example Tommy’s office, there’s a lot of references to Los Angeles there, the shape of certain curves etc. I’ve always tried to bring an Americana kind of sheen to a British gangster story. I think that’s legitimate because it is a myth.
The Garrison pub has been transformed, because [Tommy’s] gone to see London and he’s brought back an idea and done basically a Scarface on it. He’s done a 1980s Brian De Palma Al Pacino Scarface on his own pub, and it’s turned into this huge golden Las Vegas kind of mecca to his ambition, so it’s completely transformed.
[Harrisson] Is that your imprint, or is that implied in the script?
No, it’s implied in the script. He comes back and says, ‘right I’m gonna give Birmingham what I’ve seen in London. I’m gonna give the masses what they want’, which is this glamour. And he’s quite a glamourous individual. And I think also every location and every set is starting to change because he’s got money, so he buys a house from Polly in suburbia, and he’s buying racehorses, and he’s buying fast cars. You see him with this huge amount of money, and where’s that money going to take him? And I’ve always used gold as a symbol [for] his desire and ambition for money and wealth.
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