Scarface (Brian DePalma, 1983)

“You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, “That’s the bad guy.” So… what that make you? Good? You’re not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don’t have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy!”

Introduction

For my birthday a friend of mine – shout-out to Rob – was an absolute ‘playa’ and bought me an Al Pacino boxset. In the boxset was the following films: ‘Donnie Brasco’, ‘Sea of Love’, ‘Scent of a Woman’ and – the incredible – ‘Scarface’. At the time he gave me this smashing boxset I already owned ‘Scarface’ and ‘Donnie Brasco’ and swiftly popped down to the local exchange hop to swap them for other a Pacino movie, as Rob intended. They were swapped for ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ (with the intention of getting ‘Serpico’ at the soonest opportunity). Obviously, I am not going to go out of my way to own, let alone watch, ‘S1mone’ or ’88 minutes’ … critically flawed Pacino movies. Anyway, Sarah and I then embarked on a Pacino-season in the household beginning with ‘Dog Day Afternoon’, moving onto ‘Sea of Love’ (Sarah then watched Carlito’s Way as I only watched it a short while ago…) and then ‘Heat’. We then visited Ireland and enjoyed U2 in Croke park and then returned and so, to fully immerse ourselves with Pacino again, we watched ‘Scarface’ (Nb. I have seen it before while Sarah had not) …

What I reckon …

As a teacher, there are a lot of kids who – to some extent or another- imitate Tony ‘Scarface’ Camonte (Pacino). Even when watching the film, I was sure that I had heard recently a pupil call another pupil a ‘cock-a-roach’, or say ‘I’ll bury them all like cock-a-roaches’. This is scary – because the fact that Tony ‘Scarface’ Camonte is flawed in every humanly possible way and yet is imitated and, dare I say it, seen as a contemporary Icon, is awful. Personally, I reckon the best ‘speech’ Camonte makes in the film would not be ‘Say Hello to ….’ etc, or any of the Lopez conversations or even the bathtub discussion pushing Manny and Elvira away – it would be when he is drunk and staggers out of a very elite, posh restaurant and tells all the customers that they need him as ‘the bad guy’, so they can ‘point their fingers and say he’s the bad guy’ – leaving dramatically: “Say goodnight to the bad guy”. Pacino at his best.

Nevertheless, it is – akin to Oliver Stone’s ‘Natural Born Killers’ – a film steeped in self-satisfaction whereby the medium it is presented in (anti-hero, gangster rise and fall) contribute to a deeper subtext. So, although I am frustrated at the need-to-find-an-icon kids in society and their choice, it adds to the complexity of the film. So, like capitalism and how we view it – we are unaware of the horrendous effects it has on the world at large (we like watching Scarface and we like his charisma and his attitude even though is a complete bastard similar to liking the cheap and cheerful clothes Primark provides us even though we are well aware of the poverty-stricken countries used and abused to create these clothes). The second act is built upon capitalism and how Tony’s attitude towards his drug empire is similar to any other businessman’s. Tony is a ‘distributor’ and he uses legitimate banks to legitimise his company – even the bank tactfully ignores his industry.

This capitalist perspective is directly inspired by the American Dream and Tony has taken this on and ran with it, except he is clearly a criminal and is using criminal means to get his end result. But if America preaches its ‘The World is Yours’ attitude – if-you-work-for-it, you-can-achieve-it attitude, inevitably the same logic will be applied in other fields, such as criminal enterprises. Not to mention the inevitability in others being harmed in the process – Capitalism only works when their are others who purchase the products while you, yourself, sell it. His paranoia and obsession with security at the end is a product of his drug taking – ignoring Frank Lopezs’ (Robert Loggia) number two rule: Don’t get high on your own supply. Maybe he would have continued buying and selling, in larger and larger quantities if he didn’t take his product because – as we are all aware – many products are unnecessary, even harmful, but is still sold. I’ll re-read that paragraph because it goes on a little bit – there are bound to be some inaccuracies and contradictions.

Noting his paranoia, his first discussion of this is prior to shooting his boss Frank Lopez, whom he discovers has attempted to kill him. It is ironic that in this instance, his reason for killing Lopez was due to his lack of loyalty. Tony is waiting for the phone call to confirm Lopezs’ fate, gun in hand, and when Lopez asks why he is carrying the gun, Camonte replies it i because of “how do you say it – paranoia”. So Tony is using paranoia as a false excuse for his violence before revealing his true reason for carrying the gun – killing Lopez. But it is his actual paranoia – brought on by cocaine – that destroys him whereby he kills Manny (Steven Bauer) and Elvira (Michelle Pheiffer) leaves and then, to top it off, his lack of loyalty to Sosa (parallel to Lopez methinks) forces Sosa to completely obliterate Tony as Tony, high on cocaine, fails to stop them.

To close, it is worth noting how Tony is completely insane and a complete sociopath – he is a liar (lying to his Mother about his earnings), he beats women (hitting his sister and attempts to hit Elvira), he’s a murderer (of not only a heap of people – but even his completely loyal friend Manny), he is disloyal (going back on what Sosa told him to do – even though we may agree with his decision, he still disobeys Sosa’s instructions and murders Sosa’s trusted bodyguard also!), he’s a complete hypocrite (Though he won’t kill children directly, he is oblivious to the lives he has destroyed indirectly – namely his sisters life), he drinks, smokes and takes a lot of drugs. There is literally nothing he has not done. He looks good though doing all this. Therefore 14 year-old’s wear their ‘Say hello to my little friend’ t-shirt while playing the computer game.

Interesting link again to UNKLE (see review for THX 1138…) as that speech discussed in the first paragraph – “say goodnight to the bad guy” – is used by UNKLE on one of their albums: “Edit Music for a film”. Shame UNKLE didn’t do the soundtrack to ‘Scarface’ itself, as the music has dated so badly – maybe it works to some extent, accentuating the excess and tone of the eighties with the synthesizers. We have Giorgio Moroder to thank for that. (Also, turns out that the ‘Omen [Reprise]’ from The Prodigy’s album Invaders Must Die was inspired by Vangelis and Moroder’s Scarface soundtrack according to Liam Howlett himself! Check it out: http://www.vimeo.com/3467408)

It finishes so beautifully – as no doubt we all know – whereby Scarface is gunned down in excess, like his life. Prior to this he wanders out on his balcony and the cameras looks up and he looks as if he is in his own Greek tragedy – as indeed he is, killed inside his tower as he wanders on his Greek set seeing the ‘cock-a-roaches’ gather around.

After-thought

With all that discussion on the soundtrack I saw it in Fopp for £2. Initially hesitant, I thought that it was a great soundtrack that was purely eighties and set a clear tone. Rating ‘Push it to the limit’ with five stars it turns out that only that song is any good – the rest I have listened to very rarely. Shame.

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