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"Scarface" forever

Where were you on Dec. 9, 1983?

Poster I was a teenager at the Miracle Twin Theater on Miracle Mile, eluding aggressive ushers rigorously checking IDs and sneaking into the first afternoon screening of Brian De Palma's controversial, R-rated Scarface. Yes, it was a school day. But so much had been written about the film before its release, there was no way I could wait until Saturday or even later that day. Scarface had to be seen immediately.

What was it about the movie that had caused Miami City Commissioner Demetrio Perez Jr. to demand Oliver Stone rewrite his script and turn Marielita drug dealer Tony Montana into a spy for Fidel Castro? What led producer Martin Bregman to respond by saying ''Believe me, this is not going to give Miami a bad image. It already has a bad image,'' before pulling up stakes and shooting most of Scarface in Los Angeles?

Why had the ratings board repeatedly slapped Scarface with an X rating for violence, forcing De Palma into the editing room four times before he finally cried ''¡no mas!'' and refused to cut any more (the movie eventually won an R for the first ``edited'' cut, which only removed a few frames of a severed arm)?

9001scarface Putting all the controversy aside, I was intensely curious about Scarface, because it was directed by De Palma, who was currently in the midst of an amazing streak (Carrie, The Fury, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out).

So I was there, at the Miracle, for the first showing (it wasn't sold out; it wasn't even that crowded). Two hours and 50 minutes later, I emerged into the bright afternoon sunlight to find WPLG's Dwight Lauderdale and a camera crew in wait. I got a microphone jabbed in my face and was asked how the movie had been, which gave rise to my first-ever film review.

And like most critics, I had a lukewarm reaction to Scarface (at the time, I said something to the effect of ''It was bloody, but it had a lot of boring parts.'') Almost universally panned at the time of its release, Scarface went on to become a nice-size hit, grossing $44 million (which roughly translates into $100 million in 2008 ticket-price dollars).

Scarface_4_2 Today, though, it is considered a classic of its genre. Its dialogue, with its 223 uses of the f-bomb, may be the most-quoted of any movie after The Godfather. Al Pacino's volcanic performance as the original gangsta Tony Montana ranks among his best work (it also may have ruined him, since he hasn't stopped sneaking a little Montana into every character he has played since).

And Scarface, which is being screened at the Gusman Center at 8 tonight to benefit the Friends of Gusman organization, has aged wonderfully. Its delirious excesses -- the gaudy wide-screen cinematography, the lurid violence, its aggressively cheesy synth-pop soundtrack, its defiant swagger and attitude -- make it seem fresher and more entertaining today than it was 25 years ago.

102644scarfacel0818 A big part of Scarface's lasting appeal is that it seems in hindsight a perfect snapshot of the crazed, over-the-top 1980s. ''Nothing exceeds like excess,'' Michelle Pfeiffer memorably says in the film, a line that also applies to the movie itself.

Today, the Miracle Twin Theater is gone. I got busted for skipping school after Mr. Robin, my first-period teacher, saw me on the afternoon newscast. Commissioner Perez pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges (``Say good night to the bad guy!''). Producer Bregman has retired. And Pacino is overacting somewhere as you read this. But Scarface lives on.


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