After the 35th anniversary screening of Scarface at Beacon Theatre last night, director Brian De Palma told the packed house why he decided to remake the 1932 film: “I’ve always been interested in making movies about people that start rather humbly and then acquire a great deal of power and then ultimately isolate themselves and sort of live in their own world. Could that be anything we’re experiencing now?”
The crowd laughed at the Donald Trump reference. It’s hard to believe that was the first time they’d made the connection over the course of last night’s Tribeca Film Festival screening. If nothing else, Tony Montana’s marble-and-gold-splashed mansion looks every bit as gaudy as the President’s home in Trump Tower. Never mind that Tony starts lashing out at his friends and associates in a paranoid rage as his empire starts crumbling.
To drive home the point, last night’s moderator, Jesse Kornbluth, a writer who in the ’90s penned a critical documentary about Trump, asked Al Pacino if one of Tony’s many oft-quoted lines— “Who put this thing together? Me, that’s who. Who do I trust? Me!”— reminded him of anyone.
“Oh, well, I didn’t think we’d get political this soon,” Pacino demurred. “George Washington? That comes to mind.”
Not far from Beacon Theatre, James Comey was telling David Remnick that Trump has “an emptiness inside of him, and a hunger for affirmation, that I’ve never seen in an adult”– which, of course, could also apply to Tony Montana. But even if you disagree that our current president is capable of tweeting the words “say goodnight to the bad guy,” there’s no doubt Scarface–written by Oliver Stone, who was notably absent last night– remains relevant. After all, one of the film’s subtexts is immigration. Specifically, the fear of Cubans who migrated to Miami as a result of Castro’s Mariel boatlift, some of whom had been released from jails and mental institutions. Some Cubans protested De Palma’s plans to film in Miami and basically ran the production out of town. In the end, a disclaimer was added to the closing credits making it clear that “the vast majority of Cuban/Americans have demonstrated a dedication, vitality, and enterprise that has enriched the American scene.”
Last night, Steven Bauer, the Cuban-American who played Manny, addressed the controversy surrounding the film: “A lot of the old-school Cubans were concerned with me almost to the point where they weren’t really sure that my participation in a Hollywood movie was worth me downgrading, or degrading, or tainting the image of their accomplishments in the new society. What I tried to convey to them was, ‘Relax, man, it’s a movie, just take it easy and be happy for me.’”
Michelle Pfeiffer, who rounded out the cast reunion, plays the equivalent of Melania Trump in Scarface—her character, Elvira, is mostly silent and brooding, unhappily serving as Tony’s arm candy. Still, the audience wasn’t happy when Kornbluth began a question with, “Michelle, as the father of a daughter I’m concerned with body image.” A couple of young women behind me asked “What?” as Kornbluth got to his question: “In preparation for this film, what did you weigh?”
Pfeiffer gave the crowd a look that said Did he really just ask me that? as a chorus of “Noooo”s, boos, and hisses rose to the rafters.
“I don’t know,” she said. “But I was playing a cocaine addict.”
Today, Kornbluth attributed the audience reaction to the “knee-jerk political correctness of our time.”
Whatever the case, he did manage to get a story out of Pfeiffer. “I tried to time it so that as the movie went on I became thinner and thinner and more emaciated,” she said. But the shoot went on longer than expected. “I was starving by the end of it because the one scene– which was the end of the film, where I needed to be my thinnest– it was like next week, and then it was next week, and then it was next week. I literally had members of the crew bringing me bagels because they were all worried about me and how thin I was getting.”
One of the film’s delays occurred when Pacino put his hand on a hot gun barrel while filming the climactic shootout. “It just stuck,” he recalled. He went to the hospital straight from the shoot, soaked in fake blood. “This nurse comes up to me later and says, ‘You’re Al Pacino,’” he recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ She says, ‘I thought you were some scumbag.’”