Sunday, December 08, 2013

Dec. 9, 1983...'Scarface' hits Miami

Miami News, Dec. 10, 1983. 
(Click to enlarge.)

30 years ago this week, on Dec. 9, 1983, Scarface came to town.


Saturday, December 10, 1983
by JAY DUCASSI, Herald Staff Writer

A loud Bronx cheer somewhere from the front rows greeted the image of Fidel Castro as it flickered on the theater screen.

Laughter greeted actor Al Pacino efforts to imitate a heavy Cuban accent as he cursed "the Commoonists."

And groans filled the theater as a Colombian drug-runner got a bullet in the brain on a busy Miami Beach street.

Such was reaction at the Miracle theater in Coral Gables Friday afternoon as Scarface opened in seven Dade moviehouses. The movie is about a Mariel refugee who spills blood by the gallon to make it to the top of the drug underworld. A number of Cuban exiles in Miami had expressed fears it would tarnish the image of all Cubans and Miami.

Judging from theatergoers' comments, though, the fears were, perhaps, exaggerated.

William Nitzschke, a carpenter took his wife to the matinee, said, "It was a fantastic movie. They might have overdone the violence a little, but it was a great movie."

Nitzschke said the movie's fictional account of a Cuban cocaine czar didn't affect his view of Cuban exiles or Miami.

"Al Capone didn't hurt Chicago, did he?" he said.

Nitzschke's wife, a registered nurse, said Colombian and Bolivian drug dealers were made to look worse than the Cubans. The movie also left her with a somewhat sympathetic view of the main character, played by Pacino, who kills and maims his way to "success."

"He didn't have bad feelings," she said. "It was just the way he made his living."

Those coming out of Scarface found themselves beseeched by television cameras and reporters anxious to find out what a South Florida audience thought of the movie that producers pulled out of Miami.

The film's producers, who originally planned to shoot most of it in Miami, left for California when the controversy over its treatment of Cuban exiles heated up. They later claimed Miami lost millions of dollars that it would have made during the filming.

Theater manager Joe Kram said the Miracle sold more than 360 tickets for the matinee, leaving only a few empty seats.

Kram said it was unusual for a film to draw such a large crowd for a matinee during the Christmas season. Scarface , he predicted, will sell out the whole weekend.

In a Dec. 4, 1983 review of Scarface, the Herald's movie critic, Bill Cosford wrote: "It's not a great movie, not even a very good one..."

Scarface does contain one scene that seems destined to become a screen classic: crazy Tony behind his big desk in the mansion, burying his nose in a mound of coke and rooting in it like a hog, then lifting his head to reveal a hilarious, white- tipped nose. And all the while, the Bolivian hitmen are swarming over his walls, closing in.

The performances are good, Pacino's dialect notwithstanding. Bauer has something of the perfect sidekick about him, and he looks and sounds like a Miami Cuban, which, in fact, he is. Mastrantonio is his female counterpart, and Pfeiffer is the proper ice queen with the frozen nose. The script, by Oliver Stone (who won an Oscar for his adaptation for Midnight Express) is pulpy and quick and fairly campy -- the movie has a tough time keeping up with it, and at just under three hours, it occasionally drags.

It's hard to call a film such as Scarface fun, but that's all there is to it. You either like De Palma, and you like your gunplay and blood bags, or you don't. Yes, we expect more from this director, because he knows what he's doing. But this is his genre picture, and the genre is tough, particularly given 50 years of screen liberation. It's a comic strip all right, but a mean one.

One of those in the audience for the very first screening of the film at the Miracle that Friday was Rene Rodriguez, then a student at Coral Gables Senior High. He wasn't about to wait until the weekend to see the film.

"Scarface had to be seen immediately," he would later write.

"I skipped school the Friday SCARFACE came out and caught the first showing at the Miracle Theater (I had to buy a ticket for another movie and sneak in, because they used to be very strict about R-rated films back then).

"When I walked out of the theater, Dwight Lauderdale [from Channel 10] stuck a microphone in my face and asked me what I thought. I said something like "It was really good and bloody." They used it on the 6 o'clock news. My first ever movie review!

"Monday morning, when I walked into homeroom and handed the teacher my fake note explaining my absence, she said 'Uh-huh. I saw you on the news. Don't even try.' BUSTED."

Rodriguez went on to study film at the University of Miami and is now the Miami Herald's movie critic.

Twenty years after the release of Scarface, Rodriguez was getting paid to write about film.

In a Sept. 21, 2003 Herald article, Rodriguez wrote:
Today, Scarface is considered to be one of the most influential Hollywood movies of the 1980s, as important to - and loved by - its generation as The Godfather was to their parents.
And how has Scarface aged as a piece of pure cinema? Very well, actually. The story arc depicting Tony's meteoric rise and even faster fall is still problematic, and the feeling remains that the movie is too big, too oversized, for the hamfisted tale it tells.

But it's that same lurid aura - from De Palma's overheated visuals to Ferdinando Scarfiotti's immense, extravagant sets to Pacino's volcanic, spittle-flecked performance - that makes Scarface so indelible and vibrant even 20 years later, and keeps it from becoming an object of tacky retro nostalgia.

The movie also contains the most succinct visualization of 1980s greed and excess of any movie from that decade: an overhead shot of a coked-out Tony Montana sitting in his bathtub in the middle of his gigantic, gold-plated bathroom, smoking a cigar and staring blankly at the TV set, having finally amassed his fortunes and yet still feeling miserable and alone. It may not qualify as high art, but as far as pop culture goes, Scarface is immortal.


Random Pixels: Aug. 28, 1982: The day two Miami Herald columnists almost turned out the lights on Miami's film industry

Random Pixels: Beepers and pay phones in Casablanca

Random Pixels: 'Scarface' the story can be told!

St. Petersburg Times: Threats forced 'Scarface' from Miami Cocaine Cowboys


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