I’m currently watching and re-watching a lot of films as part of a longer piece I’m writing on British film, so I’ve decided to start blogging some rough pieces on a variety of films, Brit and non-Brit, as I watch. Expect them to be pretty broad.
Here’s the first.
The Essential Elements of a Hip-Hop classic.
“What about homosexuality Tony? Do you like men? Do you like to dress up like a woman?”
Re-watching De Palma’s Scarface (watching it really, I last saw it when I was about fourteen) I was struck immediately by HOW camp it is.
We’d never expect De-Palma to be too far away from the operatic or melodramatic, and the film is essentially a remake of a melodrama anyway, but driven along by Moroder’s cheesily eupeptic synth motifs (tellingly, variations on a theme for both wife and sister) and Scarfioti’s extravagant sets the whole film looks to be set in the kind of revisionist Sirkian non-space that Todd Haynes, for all his gusto, was just too self-conscious to get to in Far From Heaven. The shots alternate between a kind of nostalgic, Fifties soft-focus Edward Hopper and a hyper-bright David Hockney, along with a mawkish, idealised Homesteadery in the domestic scenes with mother and sister and the requisite angelic lighting effects on Mastrantonio’s face*
From the start, with Pacino’s lispy, pouting, alternately unctuous and defiant Tony Montana being predatorily circled by tough-guy crotches ( the neophyte’s first night in the Gay bar ) until a hand strikes in across the side of his face, by his open mouth, fingering his scar, asking him if he got it from “eating pussy”, you know you’re in for a long mince down Queer street. Indeed, it’s hard not to read Pacino’s scar as an emblem not of his tough guy past or his fundamentally flawed character, the outward manifestation of the greed that undoes him, but as a symbol of his repressed gayness, a big pussy if you will, that cuts across his eye. Tony Montana is looking at the world with half a woman’s perspective. Queer eye for the straight guy. The rest of the film is a parade of camp icons, from F. Murray Abraham’s prissy henchmen through to the suavely refined aristocratic Bolivian drug-lord who tells Pacino pointedly and hilariously, twice, that Montana should never try to fuck him. Most significant of all is of course Tony’s friendship with his boy, Manolo, a doe-eyed, hip-swivelling Greaser, who he eventually kills for getting married to his sister.
There’s a couple of extremely protracted close ups, complete with over-zealous rage-motif on the soundtrack, on Tony’s Queer-eye: first when he watches Mastrantonio flirting with a guy and getting her ass grabbed (and loving it!) in the disco, another in the murder of Manny. The standard interpretation is that Manny has broken his word and Tony is obsessed with his sister as a reserve of purity in a corrupt world: not my reading. Both Tony and Manny are singularly asexual in the film, there is no sex scene between Pacino and Pfeiffer, she’s the marriage-of-convenience/trophy wife, nor equally do we ever see Manny getting laid, and his couple of onscreen attempts at picking up broads are singularly unsuccessful. In fact, his pursuit of Tony’s sister is pure Happy Days' wholesomeness, as is the cornball meringue castle they live in, all white and light compared to Montana’s blood red, fur-lined den which actually seems to have been designed to look like a huge Pussy. This could of course represent the womblike safety that Montana yearns for, but given the way the film reads from the start it’s hard not to see it as one more expression of Tony’s femininity, especially when he emerges with his little friend levelled at crotch height to repulse the men trying to invade.
If there is a more exquisitely camp moment than the scene in which Pfeiffer and Pacino marry and the assembled throng skip giddly down to gaze at the three-way symbolic tiger ( taming the beast of American capitalism, melting Pfieffer’s hauteur and burying own illegitimate desire) that Tony has bought and chained up by the lake I’d love to see it**. Montana’s rage at the end and his murder of Manny is only explicable in that he has betrayed him by refusing to live in Queer-limbo as Montana’s unrewarded fag-hag. Equally I take his sister to represent exactly that part of himself that he can not express and that must remain dormant, hence his rage in the club when she disappears off into the men’s toilets (!) to get banged by some louche, cocksure bozo. By the time we get to the film’s infamous finale in which a gang of invading boys get introduced to a shrieking and flouncing Tony’s “little fwiend” before he submits to a bukkake bullet-fest and finally (FINALLY) gets nailed from behind with a big, long, shiny shotgun the film has entered a zone of delirious, hilarious kitsch that in fairness, one should only expect from arch-Queen De-Palma.
After watching the extras, including the Def Jam homage to a Hip-Hop classic (!), I watched the deleted scenes. Yep. They deleted two takes of scene that's an expression of love between Tony and Manny, which stops just short of a kiss and is approvingly watched by an audience of Trannies, in a part of the dorm where Montana just happens to have made his bed. The implication in both scenes is that maybe Manny is a little uncomfortable with Tony’s love for him, in the second that Tony may have been “partying” with the drag queens. Either way it contains the immortal double-entendre, “Assholes drive me crazy, Manny.” There is also a later scene in which Mastrantonio is confused for his wife as he buys her a sexy-but-chaste white dress that he himself is just too short to carry off, and which she changes into in the final scene when she confronts Tony over his desire. He doesn’t want to sleep with you love, he wants to be you!
Tony Montana, a great big faggot, just waiting to get fucked.
* there is I think a kind of bleeding through from Scarface to Blue Velvet to Cronenburg’s A History Of Violence/Eastern Promise which I may well elaborate on later, especially as my post on Lynch is well overdue.
**although the sequence directly after Manny’s murder with Mastrantonio holding his corpse (after the extreme close up on Pacino’s angry face/eye and a slow motion run down the stairs in another floaty white gown for Mastrantonio) in which she tells Pacino, “we just got married yesterday, we were going to tell you today” surely isn’t going to get beaten for mordantly camp bathos anytime soon.