Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Scarface phenomenon

by Professor Wagstaff

About a decade ago, I got my first chance to watch Brian De Palma’s ‘Scarface’ when it appeared on TV. I’d heard a bit about it that it was considered a disappointment in its day but was worth watching, especially for Al Pacino’s performance as gangster Tony Montana.

So I watched it and overall enjoyed it, although it was overwrought and excessive (what else could one expect with De Palma as director and Oliver Stone as scriptwriter?). For various reasons (not least its unpleasant tone) it wasn’t a film I particularly didn’t want to watch again and thought, it would be remembered in years to come (if at all) as a campy curio. How wrong I was.

In the last few years, it seems that ‘Scarface’ isn’t just becoming a cult film, it’s become a mass phenomenon. There have been multiple movie books about the 1980s I’ve seen with Al ‘Tony Montana’ Pacino on the front cover, as if to imply that it was the film of that era. But it’s also grown as a pop culture icon. From Wikipedia on the film:

Scarface is also notable for its extensive popularity with many hip-hop artists and fans, in particular those affiliated with gangsta rap. A number of rappers single out Tony Montana as a role model for his transition from poverty to wealth.

Recently, I saw a car driving down the streets of Melbourne with the Scarface logo and Al Pacino as Tony Montana painted on the side doors. And the film is now rated by the general public as the top 250 films (224) of all time on the IMDB site. And just the other day I saw a poster for a video game about the ‘Scarface’ that’s due to be launched.

There have been certain films (and film personalities) who’ve grown in popularity long after they were made, but it would be hard to top the explosion on popularity of ‘Scarface’.

There are reasons one could pinpoint as to why it has grown so much in popularity (e.g. the public’s increasing fascination with gangsters) but overall, how an enjoyable but trashy and throwaway film has become so massively popular and significant has got me baffled.


Blogger jaydro said...

Yeah, Professor, I don't get it, either. When I happen across someone being interviewed and they mention Tony Montana as a role model, it makes me cringe. I think, did you only watch certain scenes of that film? What is wrong with you? Is this emblematic of some basic thing that's gone wrong in our culture? I can almost understand it when some celebrity says they built their mansion to look just like Tony Montana's with the same vulgar decor etc., because I know when I saw the film (on opening night) it encouraged brief fantasies in me of how an M-16 with M203 grenade launcher could be a neat toy, but I got over that pretty quickly (and, btw, have never even owned a gun). I'm sure Brian DePalma is laughing all the way to the bank.

11/30/2006 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

Yeah, you're right, it is kind of odd. I only saw the movie for the first time about two years ago or so, and I was struck by how ... goofy it all is. And like so much from the '80s, it seems pretty dated now.

But, you see the same kind of thing happening with The Godfather, too. Like you said, we're just in a gangster phase right now.

Interesting that the same thing is going on in Australia, though.

11/30/2006 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger Count Olaf said...

Still haven't seen it but have always had a curiousity about it. Wells' wrote about the hip hop phenomenon a few years ago and it has even grown since then.
I don't get it either...

11/30/2006 09:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I kind of wandered into this blog, and read this post, and was so glad to know that someone else out there had the same opinion as me. I just don't understand it. I had pretty much come to the conclusion that every guy in the world loved this movie, and you have all given me quite a pleasant surprise.

12/01/2006 07:00:00 PM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

Yep, count another guy who was meh about it. To be stereotypical, I died enjoy Michelle Pfeiffer and her skimpy outfits.

12/04/2006 07:01:00 AM  

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