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Domino is
a "disarmingly
work that "pushes
us to reexamine our
relationship to images
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not only ethically
but metaphysically"
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De Palma on Domino
"It was not recut.
I was not involved
in the ADR, the
musical recording
sessions, the final
mix or the color
timing of the
final print."

Listen to
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for Domino online

De Palma/Lehman
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in Snakes

De Palma/Lehman
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"a horror movie
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that have happened
in the news"

Supercut video
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edited by Carl Rodrigue

Washington Post
review of Keesey book


Exclusive Passion

Brian De Palma
Karoline Herfurth
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AV Club Review
of Dumas book


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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Posted by Geoff at 12:28 PM CST
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Saturday, December 9, 2023

From Roger Ebert's 1983 review in The Chicago Sun-Times:
The interesting thing is the way Tony Montana stays in the memory, taking on the dimensions of a real, tortured person. Most thrillers use interchangeable characters, and most gangster movies are more interested in action than personality, but "Scarface" is one of those special movies, like "The Godfather," that is willing to take a flawed, evil man and allow him to be human. Maybe it's no coincidence that Montana is played by Al Pacino, the same actor who played Michael Corleone.

Montana is a punk from Cuba. The opening scene of the movie informs us that when Cuban refugees were allowed to come to America in 1981, Fidel Castro had his own little private revenge -- and cleaned out his prison cells, sending us criminals along with his weary and huddled masses. We see Montana trying to bluff his way through an interrogation by US federal agents, and that's basically what he'll do for the whole movie: bluff. He has no real character and no real courage, although for a short time cocaine gives him the illusion of both.

"Scarface" takes its title from the 1932 Howard Hawks movie, which was inspired by the career of Al Capone. That Hawks film was the most violent gangster film of its time, and this 1983 film by Brian DePalma also has been surrounded by a controversy over its violence, but in both movies the violence grows out of the lives of the characters; it isn't used for thrills but for a sort of harrowing lesson about self-destruction. Both movies are about the rise and fall of a gangster, and they both make much of the hero's neurotic obsession with his sister, but the 1983 "Scarface" isn't a remake, and it owes more to "The Godfather" than to Hawks.

That's because it sees its criminal so clearly as a person with a popular product to sell, working in a society that wants to buy. In the old days it was booze. For the Corleones, it was gambling and prostitution. Now it's cocaine. The message for the dealer remains the same: Only a fool gets hooked on his own goods. For Tony Montana, the choices seem simple at first. He can work hard, be honest and make a humble wage as a dishwasher. Or he can work for organized crime, make himself more vicious than his competitors and get the big cars, the beautiful women and the boot-licking attention from nightclub doormen. He doesn't wash many dishes.

As Montana works his way into the south Florida illegal drug trade, the movie observes him with almost anthropological detachment. This isn't one of those movies where the characters all come with labels attached ("boss," "lieutenant," "hit man") and behave exactly as we expect them to. DePalma and his writer, Oliver Stone, have created a gallery of specific individuals, and one of the fascinations of the movie is that we aren't watching crime-movie clichés, we're watching people who are criminals.

Al Pacino does not make Montana into a sympathetic character, but he does make him into somebody we can identify with, in a horrified way, if only because of his perfectly understandable motivations. Wouldn't we all like to be rich and powerful, have desirable sex partners, live in a mansion, be catered to by faithful servants -- and hardly have to work? Well, yeah, now that you mention it. Dealing drugs offers the possibility of such a lifestyle, but it also involves selling your soul.

Montana gets it all and he loses it all. That's predictable. What is original about this movie is the attention it gives to how little Montana enjoys it while he has it. Two scenes are truly pathetic; in one of them, he sits in a nightclub with his blond mistress and his faithful sidekick, and he's so wiped out on cocaine that the only emotions he can really feel are impatience and boredom. In the other one, trying for a desperate transfusion of energy, he plunges his face into a pile of cocaine and inhales as if he were a drowning man.

"Scarface" understands this criminal personality, with its links between laziness and ruthlessness, grandiosity and low self-esteem, pipe dreams and a chronic inability to be happy. It's also an exciting crime picture, in the tradition of the 1932 movie. And, like the "Godfather" movies, it's a gallery of wonderful supporting performances: Steven Bauer as a sidekick, Michelle Pfeiffer as a woman whose need for drugs leads her from one wrong lover to another, Robert Loggia as a mob boss who isn't quite vicious enough, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, as Pacino's kid sister who wants the right to self-destruct in the manner of her own choosing.

These are the people Tony Montana deserves in his life, and "Scarface" is a wonderful portrait of a real louse.

Posted by Geoff at 12:17 PM CST
Updated: Saturday, December 9, 2023 7:39 PM CST
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Friday, December 8, 2023

Nat Segaloff gets into all the details surrounding Scarface, from the origins of the original Howard Hawks film, towards especially the 1983 version that Brian De Palma directed (the inside jacket indicates the book is timed for the latter film's 40th anniversary). There's a forward by Steven Bauer, and our friend Laurent Vachaud is quoted on the book's back cover:
"Not content with tracing the origins, production, reception, and legacy of Howard Hawks's film and Brian De Palma's remake with an incredible wealth of detail, Nat Segaloff takes digressions into the history of the main players, Prohibition, the cocaine trade, and many other subjects, always in a concise and entertaining manner. For all these reasons, Say Hello to My Little Friend is the ultimate all-in-one guide on Scarface that will teach you everything and more."
-Laurent Vachaud, co-author of De Palma on De Palma


"Al Pacino fans will devour this book. It identifies Scarface as the driving force behind Pacino's evolution as a star. The analysis of his Tony and Paul Muni's Tony in the first Scarface is fascinating, as are all of Segaloff's stories about the Mob and how it infiltrated Hollywood during the film industry's golden age."
-Robert Hofler, author of The Way They Were and The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson

Posted by Geoff at 11:11 PM CST
Updated: Friday, December 8, 2023 11:13 PM CST
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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Total Film's GamesRadar quotes David Ayers from the latest issue of the print magazine:
Suicide Squad director David Ayer reflects on his unmade Scarface reboot script, and admits it was one of his best.

"One of the best scripts I’ve ever written was my Scarface draft," he says in the new 2024 preview issue of Total Film, which hits shelves this week. "It gets passed around in Hollywood, underground. It’s funny when people talk about the project. 'Is it the Ayer script?' 'No, it’s somebody else.' 'Oh, OK.'"

Ayer was attached to the reboot of the classic Brian De Palma film which starred Al Pacino as Tony Montana before he parted ways with Universal on the project in 2017. Speaking to TF in our new issue, the director also addresses the misconception that the script was turned down because it was too violent.

"It wasn’t too violent. Violence – I can cover it. If someone gets shot, I can photograph it where a head explodes and have a hard R, and it’s not going to alienate people. That’s easy. That’s filmmaker 101. I created this rich, soulful journey through the drug trade, and kind of what it is. The studio just wanted something more… fun."

He continues: "Scarface is its biggest IP behind Jurassic Park. They want to capture as big of an audience as possible. I fucking love Universal. Amazing people. I had this really honest conversation about the movie they wish they had, and the movie that I wished to make. There’s a lot of daylight between us. It’s just easier to be like, 'Let’s park this.'"

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Posted by Geoff at 11:23 PM CST
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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Posted by Geoff at 11:16 PM CST
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Monday, December 4, 2023

At The Telegraph, film critic Tim Robey looks at "how the blood-soaked Scarface predicted the 1980s" --
Even De Palma’s usual ally, Pauline Kael, had a host of issues with it. Singling out the “rash brilliance” of the chainsaw sequence as a highlight, she faulted the film’s dramatic arc – “the middle is missing” – and called it “manic yet exhausted”, with Pacino’s efforts expended on a character so consistently pig-like that the audience got no kick out of him. She compared him – rightly – to De Niro’s Jake La Motta in Raging Bull (1980), another film Kael disliked for reasons that seem a little facile now. It’s as if she’s asking these loathsome men, with their “macho primitivism”, to satiate an audience’s craving to be won over, somehow. Charmed.

In retrospect, all the unpleasantness Kael describes in Scarface is right there – but it adds up to a go-for-broke vision, not a litany of flaws. Fast-tracking Tony to obscene wealth, bypassing the steps he takes, is the most swaggery way to comment on his ugly rapaciousness. It differentiates De Palma’s film from The Godfather – or the likes of Casino after it – and makes it pop as a prescient, coke-taker’s satire on Reaganite consumption. “Nothing exceeds like excess,” as Pfeiffer drawls, acidly.

With its glacial Giorgio Moroder score and mirror-filled nightclub scenes, Scarface flaunts an archetypal early-1980s aesthetic, but also manages to feel like the last word on the selfish glamour of a decade that had barely begun. When Tony berates all the rich, appalled habitués of a swanky restaurant as hypocrites, worse than he is, the scene would hardly benefit from more social realism – it’s a one-sided slapdown, a screed. Tony is no one’s listener, of course: he just shouts, expecting the world’s attention.

It took a while to get it. Scarface barely broke even in 1983 – hurt by the reviews and backstage squabbles, netting a so-so $65m worldwide. But it soon became a runaway hit on VHS, selling more than 100,000 copies (priced at an eye-watering $79.95 per cassette, in the medium’s early days). In 2003, the 20th anniversary DVD re-issue was the fastest-selling disc on record, even beating ET. Saddam Hussein was such a fan, he named his family trust fund Montana Management in Tony’s honour.

Along the way, it became an enormous touchstone in hip-hop culture, referenced and sampled by everyone from Public Enemy to Jay-Z. Rapper Sean Combs claims to have seen it 63 times; it’s been an incalculable influence on rap videos ever since it was made.

The electronic artist and composer E.M.M.A., whose main instruments are synths, has had the film on her “creative mood board” from the moment she first heard “Tony’s Theme”. “The mood is unsettlingly complex,” she explains. “Every sound has a purpose and space is used wisely. It helps cement in my mind the gold standard of the emotion you’d want to draw out of a story with your music, and what can be achieved with a meeting of minds.”

The blimp that floats past Tony’s mansion saying “The World is Yours” – nodding back to the billboard under which Muni dies in Hawks’s original – gives the film a reckless allure that transcends bling and firepower. E.M.M.A sees this as the reason so many artists have drawn inspiration from Scarface: “Wanting something just out of grasp is an ideal creative canvas.”

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Friday, December 1, 2023

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Frances Sternhagen, who memorably played Dr. Waldheim in Raising Cain, has died of natural causes. She was 93.

In Raising Cain, Sternhagen was at the center of what is possibly Brian De Palma's most wonderfully outrageous Steadicam shot. Entertainment Weekly's Tom Scanlon was there while they were filming:

”Cut!” director Brian De Palma calls out. ”Cut, cut, cut,” he mutters, hustling up the steps toward actress Frances Sternhagen. The stocky, salt-and-pepper-bearded De Palma is known for his on-the-set gruffness, but here he shows a softer side, gently coaxing from Sternhagen (Misery) the inflection he imagines an elderly Swiss psychologist would have while explaining how a harmless family man could harbor multiple, murderous personalities. Shooting at City Hall in Mountain View, Calif., De Palma wants Sternhagen to deliver the complex speech while following a pair of detectives through a hallway, down a flight of stairs, onto an escalator, and into an elevator, finally ending up in a basement morgue — all in one continuous shot.

The scene is almost as long as the 4-minute, 50-second Steadicam shot that opened De Palma’s last picture, The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990). But if the controversial director of Dressed to Kill, Scarface, and The Untouchables has his way, that will be the only similarity between the two films. With a lean budget ($12 million), relatively low-profile leads (John Lithgow, Lolita Davidovich, Steven Bauer), and a low-key production in the suburbs of San Francisco, Cain is not only a return to the Hitchcockian terrain where De Palma has always felt most at home but it’s also his chance to prove that he can still craft an efficient thriller.

The Cain script, which De Palma also wrote, gives him an opportunity to indulge his taste for showy plot twists and frequent nods — part homage, part send-up-to the master. And it gives Lithgow (Ricochet) the chance to let loose an entire improv troupe’s worth of kinky character studies. ”I must say, I’m great in this movie,” Lithgow chuckles. ”This is going to be mind-blowing.”

For De Palma, who had recently married Terminator producer (and James Cameron’s ex) Gale Anne Hurd, keeping the project manageable was a top priority. ”Gale was pregnant (she has since given birth to a baby girl, now 10 months old), and I wanted to do a movie that I could do very simply and that was close to home,” he says, adding that he deliberately chose locations that were near the couple’s Woodside, Calif., home. Hurd, who’s also Cain‘s producer, says, ”It’s really nice to be able to go to sleep in your own bed.”

Particularly on days like this. The long Steadicam shot requires 27 tedious takes. In the final seconds, with actors gathered around a covered body in the morgue, De Palma bellows stage directions.

”Hand!” he shouts, directing the coroner to lift the corpse’s bloody hand.

”Drop!” The hand drops back on the slab.

”Face!” The sheet is yanked back to reveal …

Interviewed by Charlie Rose in 1992, just three months after Raising Cain was released, Rose asked Sternhagen to explain what she measn when she says that she works from the outside in:

Well, it really means that I like to… I feel like John Cleese, the man of silly walks [laughs]. I like to find out how it feels to walk and talk like a character before I really start on the emotional moments. … It begins to all happen together, but in the very beginning, it starts – I love things where I have to do accents, for example. It’s a kind of limit. It’s a kind of pattern that I then can fit myself into. And I know I have a friend, for example, who has no idea that I used her in a movie. And what I loved about it was I just – it began to happen. As I read it, I started seeing how [voice trails off], and pretty soon, I found myself being tough and hard, just the way she was. And what was wonderful was that, I got a little apprehensive that she might recognize herself, she came up to me after seeing the movie and she said, “I like that character you played!” And I thought, she likes herself. She likes herself, that’s nice!

Posted by Geoff at 6:37 PM CST
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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

At PopMatters, Brandon P. Bisbey, an Associate Professor of Spanish and faculty in Latinx and Latin American Studies and Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Northeastern Illinois University, has posted an article with the headline, "Getting high on your own supply: Scarface as an allegory of capitalism." Here's an excerpt:
Wanting more than you need is, of course, the cornerstone of a consumption-based economy, as well as a reasonable definition of addiction. The specter of this illness arises when Elvira interrupts to tell Tony lesson number two: “Don’t get high on your own supply.” Frank, clearly annoyed, seconds this and adds, with a hard look at Elvira, “Of course, not everybody follows that rule.”

In the logic of Scarface, no one follows this rule because no one can. If Tony can be called a tragic figure, this is his hamartia, as inevitable as Oedipus marrying his mother. This is because Tony’s addiction to cocaine, modeled by Elvira, does not simply undermine his rational business acumen. Rather, it represents the very essence of business, the point of doing it in the first place: Tony sells to consumers so that he, in turn, may himself consume.

In his study of Latin American narcoliterature Drugs, Violence and Latin America, professor Joseph Patteson describes Western addiction to cocaine as a parody of capitalism—it shores up a solipsistic sense of self closed off to identification with the other and oriented towards consumption and domination, a state of affairs that leaves the addict perpetually unsatisfied. This is not due to any inherent quality of the drug itself. Indigenous peoples of South America who ingest relatively high amounts of cocaine through traditional coca chewing do not suffer from what we in the West call “addiction”. Tony, however, embodies the transformation of coca into cocaine, that is, the process of commodification under capitalism. The more he consumes, the more dissatisfied he becomes, as he systematically alienates everyone around him through his selfishness.

Frank’s final lesson, though not part of his list, is imparted when the waiter brings them a bottle of 1964 Dom Pérignon: “five hundred and fifty dollars…for a bunch a fucking grapes!” When asked how he likes it Tony responds, “Woah, that’s good, Frank!” Thus is commodity fetishism demonstrated, though not critiqued. The wine’s exchange value is based on its function as a status symbol, which also makes it taste very, very good. This lesson is put into practice when Tony makes his first major purchase, a Porsche he hopes will impress Elvira (it does), and later, as Tony steals her from Frank, kills him, and takes over his business.

The ensuing montage, cited by Márez as an allegory of the movement of narcocapital through the modern financial system, with bills riffling through counting machines and sacks of money being taken to a bank, also includes a portrayal of consumption. We see Tony marry Elvira at his new mansion, unveil a portrait of them, show guests his pet tiger, and buy his sister a designer dress. It ends with a shot of Elvira sitting in front of a mirror with a far-away look in her eyes, taking cocaine with a small spoon, sipping from an old-fashioned glass, and anxiously taking a drag from a cigarette. In the very next scene, we see Tony in his office, garishly decorated in black and gold and with a bank of CCTV screens, negotiating with the financier who launders his money as he mirrors Elvira’s consumption in a less elegant fashion, slamming down his glass, chomping a cigar and noisily snorting lines off of a mirror.

The dissatisfaction inherent to the search for the “good life” under capitalism is put front and center in Scarface‘s very next scene, which features Tony sitting in a huge jacuzzi filled with bubbles, smoking a cigar, and watching TV as Elvira does her toilette behind him and Manny, his right-hand man, attempts to convince him to talk to a new money launderer. While ranting at the news, Tony ironically criticizes the very thing that enabled his acquisition of wealth, arguing that bankers and politicians maintain drug prohibition to enrich themselves at the expense of people like him. His complaints even have a tinge of nostalgia for socialism: “You know what capitalism is? Gettin’ fucked!” Elvira responds sarcastically: “true capitalist if ever I met one.”

Posted by Geoff at 10:15 PM CST
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