Moviedrome Mondays: Scarface (1983) (Mark Cousins intro)

When Moviedrome began it’s eighth season during the summer of 1997, Edinburgh-based Irish film writer-turned-later documentarian on the subject Mark Cousins became the new presenter. For my UK readers, he is perhaps best known for his celebrated 2011 documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey. Sure, Cousins may not measure up to Cox, but then again, who can? Nevertheless, I personally feel that he is just as interesting in his own way. As with Cox, I agree with Cousins as much as I disagree with him.

I have posted a youtube video link below to Moviedrome presenter Mark Cousins intro to director Brian De Palma’s 1983 celebrated cult gangster epic Scarface. Readers can also read Cousins intro here. The episode’s original airdate was June 8, 1997 (read here). If anything else, De Palma’s 1983 update of Howard Hawks 1932 classic is one that I admire more than I adore. Make no mistake, De Palma’s version is a very good film, but I would not call it quintessential De Palma (i.e. Dressed to Kill and Blow Out serve as just two of many perfect examples). I do agree with all of the high points that Cousins places on the film of course. In form and content, it is flawless (especially Al Pacino’s iconic Tony Montana), but in the end, it feels more like a studio assignment for De Palma than anything else, despite directing the hell out of it. Personally, I think Michael Cimino would have been a more worthy candidate for this job regarding the film’s central theme of excess and given his reputation at the time – his labor of love Heaven’s Gate (a misunderstood masterpiece) reportedly bought him comparisons to Austrian-American filmmaker Erich von Stroheim. In other words, both men were cinematic masters of excess. Unlike von Stroheim and Cimino, De Palma does not really strike me as that – yes, his filmmaking style is operatic, but in the end, you could never label him as a true man of excess. Anyway, as a remake, De Palma’s Scarface is close to greatness, but no cigar. If any of you readers are interested, here is a link to my favorite Brian De Palma films (read here).

P.S. though Cousins correctly labels John A. Alonzo as the cinematographer for this film, Chinatown and Internal Affairs, he incorrectly credits him for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was photographed by the late great Vilmos Zsigmond.

Here is a youtube video link to Mark Cousins Moviedrome intro to Scarface

Here is a youtube video link to the film’s original theatrical trailer

15 thoughts on “Moviedrome Mondays: Scarface (1983) (Mark Cousins intro)

  1. I love Scarface. I think it’s one of the best movies ever. It’s actually my favourite movie ever. It’s now recognised as a classic and iconic film and rightly so. It’s also considered one of the best crime films ever made which it is. It’s a hugely influential film. It’s had a huge influence on pop culture. It influenced movies, TV shows, documentaries, music and video games.

    Al Pacino is at his absolute best in Scarface. It’s one of his greatest and most iconic performances and the rest of the cast is great too. One of my favourites in the cast is Paul Shenar. He’s truly great and ultra cool as Sosa. Scarface is one of Brian DePalma’s best films. His direction is great and very stylish and was perfect for the film. Oliver Stone’s screenplay is also great with so much great dialogue. He went deep into Miami and South Florida’s cocaine scene for his research. Great photography by John A. Alonzo. Great locations and sets too.
    Overall Scarface is a fantastic, classic and iconic film.

    Scarface is my favourite film ever. I don’t think it’s the best movie ever made. I think The Godfather Part II is the best movie ever made and it’s my second favourite film ever. Al Pacino stars in my two favourite films ever and he’s my favourite actor.

  2. I think Cousins got off to a bad start on Moviedrome. I think his intro to Scarface is terrible. He actually tells us Oliver Stone made JFK and Platoon. I didn’t know that. Ya don’t say!
    I disagree with what he says about DePalma eschewing the politics of Stone’s script. Stone’s screenplay actually wasn’t political. I think DePalma did retain Stone’s commentary on the greed culture of the age which Stone would later return to in Wall Street which is also a great film and a classic.

    Cousins calling Giorgio Moroder the worst composer in the world is outrageous. Giorgio Moroder has a lot more talent than you’ll ever have, Cousins! This is an example of how Cousins could say things that were infuriating.

    Also, that “fakest coastline” he talks about is actually a real coastline. That’s an actual house at 485 West Matheson Drive in Key Biscayne, Florida. I’ve been outside that house when I’ve been to Miami. That house was also used in Miami Vice episodes.

    Overall I think Cousins’ Scarface intro is just bad and it doesn’t do the film justice at all.

    I’m not a fan of Mark Cousins. I just don’t like Cousins’ era of Moviedrome. It goes without saying that he’s no Alex Cox. To be fair, a lot of his intros were good yet I’m still not a fan. While they are good good I don’t think they’re anything special or exceptional. They don’t do much for me. Cousins lacked humour which Alex Cox had. Cousins also has a strange voice which I find quite monotonous to listen to. The show became Moviedrone under him.
    Cousins could also say things that were infuriating such as what he said about Giorgio Moroder here. The only Cousins intro which I would consider excellent is his intro to Ed Wood.
    Overall I just don’t think Cousins was such a good host. I’m not a fan of Cousins’ Moviedrome and that’s that. I think it would’ve been much better if Alex Cox returned to host the show.

    I think the list of films shown on Cousins’ run of Moviedrome was good overall. Although I think the films shown on his run were more mainstream and well known. There was less obscure films than were shown on Alex’s tenure and Cousins’ years lacked the interesting offbeat quirky oddities of Alex’s years

  3. It’s interesting to read your thoughts on Scarface. I actually don’t agree with you saying how Scarface was more like a studio assignment for DePalma. It might not be quintessential DePalma but he still wanted it to be his magnum opus and he really put his heart and soul into directing it and I’m sure if you asked DePalma what his best film is he would say Scarface.
    I think DePalma is a great director and he’s one my favourite directors. I think Carrie, Body Double and Carlito’s Way are great too and I think Casualties of War is excellent. I think the level of excess DePalma presented in Scarface was sufficient.

    It’s interesting that you think Cimino would’ve been a good choice to direct Scarface. I don’t really think so. Cimino would have included a 25 minute sequence of people dancing at the Babylon Club. Cimino was a man of excess but I think excess largely pertained to films going heavily overbudget and giving his film’s excessive length.

    Although Cimino did direct a crime movie with a screenplay by Oliver Stone which was Year of the Dragon. That is quite a good film and Cimino’s excesses were brought under control for it.

    I’m afraid I don’t like Heaven’s Gate and I don’t agree all this revisionism about it being a great film. I don’t think it is.

    Also, did you watch any more of the poliziotteschis I recommended. If so, any thoughts?

  4. Unlike Steve, I am a huge fan of Heaven’s Gate. I thought it was beautifully photographed, and felt authentic. My only gripe was the ‘real soundtrack’, which left the voices of characters often impossible to hear over the background. (Train arrival, etc.)
    I prefer ‘Carlito’s Way’ to ‘Scarface’. Despite really enjoying the latter, I thought the final shoot-out was completely unrealistic, and became almost comical.
    Cousin’s voice can be annoying, and I agree that he was not a great choice for Moviedrome. But he certainly knows a lot about film, and his opinions are always interesting, whether or not I agree with them.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  5. I think the final shootout in Scarface is one of the greatest shootouts in movie history. It’s up there with the ending of The Wild Bunch. Montana is a one man Wild Bunch. I find the final shootout fantastic, thrilling and exhilarating so by virtue of that I can overlook the fact that it’s unrealistic. I think it was such a great ending. It’s supposed to be the over the top and excessive so I can buy it.

    I’m afraid I have to disagree with Heaven’s Gate. What was playing the Blue Danube Waltz at the Harvard scene at the start of the film? There was no orchestra there. And in the scene in the roller skating rink, there’s dozens of people there and then Kris Kristofferson takes Jeff Bridges outside for a few seconds and when he goes back in all the hordes of people have disappeared and only Isabelle Huppert and the band are there. What the hell? Where did all the people go?

    I also don’t think Heaven’s Gate has a well written screenplay and I don’t think Kristofferson had what it took to be the lead of a four hour epic although I do think he was good in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and his small role in BMTHO Alfredo Garcia. The cast is really superb but don’t think there was much to their characters. The photography by the great Vilmos Zsigmond is of course stunning and it is the best of his distinguished career so I agree on that and I do think the film has some virtues but I’m still not a fan of it. I know fans of the film will disagree but I’m afraid that’s my opinion.

  6. Pete, I am totally with you on Heaven’s Gate, but then again, you probably knew that already šŸ™‚ Although I do not see the film’s technical soundtrack as a flaw, it is a legitimate one at the very least. How big of a fan am I Heaven’s Gate? Let me give you a hint, I rank it higher than The Deer Hunter (also directed by Michael Cimino) šŸ™‚

    As for Carlito’s Way and Scarface, I personally feel that both are very good, though I too would rank Carlito’s Way slightly higher. Nevertheless, I still see both of them as atypical De Palma. This is not to damn the films or anything (far from it), just my way of seeing them. Unlike you though, I had no issues with Scarface’s climactic shootout and on that, I have to agree with Steve, but you are totally right on Heaven’s Gate in this case, which me and you see as a misunderstood masterpiece šŸ™‚ Anyway, thanks for dropping by šŸ™‚

  7. Hey Steve, thank you for all of the insights as usual šŸ™‚ Even though I stick to what I said about Scarface being a studio assignment for Brian De Palma, I also mentioned that he directed the hell out of it. I probably should have made myself clearer so you would not get confused for thinking that I do not like this film – far from it, in fact, I own it. Truth be told, standing on its own, Scarface is a perfect film, it is only when you start to look at how unique everything is that one gets the feeling that Scarface is a film that almost anybody of De Palma’s high caliber could have directed. Therefore, it becomes very good as opposed to staying great. But again, Scarface is a film that for me, is close to masterpiece status. I do not deny that De Palma is very proud of Scarface, but (and you got me on this one) as to whether or not he feels that Scarface is his best film, I would not know. I think I read somewhere that De Palma considered Casualties of War his personal favorite and If that is so, then part of it may be rooted in the fact that it was a labor of love for him.

    I too am a huge fan of De Palma Steve, but then again, you probably clicked on that link to see what my favorites of his are šŸ™‚ Along with Scarface, Carlito’s Way is very good De Palma, whereas Carrie, Body Double and Casualties of War are great De Palma at least for me. I also had no problem with the excess presented in Scarface – I knew exactly what De Palma and screenwriter Oliver Stone were going for and as I said before, the film is unique and I would not change a frame of it in form and content.

    I do stick by what I said of Michael Cimino being a better choice to direct Scarface cause whether this was intentional or not, his overspending on Heaven’s Gate earned him inevitable comparisons to some of the film directed by Erich von Stroheim in his heyday (a notable example being 1922’s Foolish Wives). Truth be told, I would have more than welcomed a 25-minute sequence of the people dancing at the Babylon Club. There have been extended sequences like that long before Cimino, remember the 45-minute ballroom sequence in Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard? šŸ™‚ I also appreciate your point on excess, but I think I was basing it more on the personality of the filmmaker as well.

    Year of the Dragon is another great film and yes, I too was aware that Oliver Stone co-wrote the script to it with Cimino.

    I stick with what I said, Heaven’s Gate is a misunderstood masterpiece šŸ™‚

    This month so far I have not watched any poliziotteschis, but do not worry, once November hits, I plan on resuming to watch more of them šŸ™‚ Also, I will be posting a blog entry on Almost Human in November – that is right, I finally wrote a review on it and as you know, I love the film šŸ™‚

  8. I totally agree with you Steve on Scarface’s climactic shootout – it undoubtedly ranks up there with the many other greatest ones in cinematic history and yes, I too would rank it alongside The Wild Bunch. I mean given the excessive lifestyle of Tony Montana, the film’s artificiality makes perfect sense šŸ™‚

    Once again, you know how I feel about Heaven’s Gate based on my first reply to you šŸ™‚ While I can’t properly answer those flaws you lay out in this second sentence, I think the best way for you to appreciate (If that is what you are trying to understand) Heaven’s Gate is to embrace it as a grand folly not too different from D.W. Griffith’s 1916 epic masterwork Intolerance. Now I am aware that Intolerance and von Stroheim’s work may look coherent from a script standpoint by comparison, I think Heaven’s Gate is a worthy comparison to them. Sometimes they do not have to be completely comprehensible – this is also an issue in some of Sergio Leone’s epics (Once Upon a Time in the West and America), but I love them no less. In fact, the messiness of all of these epics is what makes them unique.

    Once again, Heaven’s Gate and Leone epics are not films that you embrace for their screenplays or their casting choices – I mean you could, but for me, that is optional. Kris Kristofferson and everybody else is fine, but a you do not watch a film like this for cast. Would I loved to have seen a perfect screenplay and cast? Sure, but this is an epic where those two things are optional or at least for me. What matters to me is getting to see the filmmaker’s vision (in this case Cimino) on screen and with all of the resources with him to do what he wants. Now I will admit that he did not have to continuously tear down sets and build new ones to achieve perfection – he could have worked around that, which could have prevented United Artists from nearly going bankrupt. Make no mistake, the near bankruptcy was tragic and should not have happened. The point I am trying to make is that one should see Heaven’s Gate with fresh eyes and If you love the film, great and If you do not, that is fine too. I too love Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography on this film and this is just one of many career highlights for him šŸ™‚ BTW, I too love Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, but then again, you already knew that šŸ™‚

  9. Mark Cousins undeniably pales in comparison to Alex Cox Steve, you are totally right about that.

    Director Brian De Palma did not eschew any of Oliver Stone’s screenplay as you so eloquently imply. In fact, they both saw eye to eye on the script.

    I too was taken aback when Cousins called Giorgio Moroder the worst composer in the world. Cousins could not be more wrong about that.

    I too knew that that coastline was real and it makes you wonder too If Cousins had done research? On the side, I think it is awesome that you got to visit Key Biscayne, Florida, you must have had a great time? I also had a feeling they uses that location in some Miami Vice episodes, so thank you for those insights šŸ™‚

    I agree with you regarding Cousins as a whole, though I do love it that he is a huge fan of Nicolas Roeg and David Cronenberg. For that, he deserves my utmost respect. Nevertheless, he can be wrong like here and you will see in some future Moviedrome Monday entries a demonstration of that on his part. Nevertheless, I do agree with you that Alex Cox was a much better host.

    On a whole, I do agree with you that most of the films shown during Mark Cousins years on Moviedrome were not that interesting since they were more of them were mainstream ones. This is not to say that any of them were bad or anything, but obscure gems were in short supply during then as you once again so eloquently imply šŸ™‚

  10. I do not dispute anything you have just said in your praise of Scarface Steve šŸ™‚ In fact, their is nothing wrong with the film at all – I think my decision to treat it as a very good film * * * 1/2 out of * * * * as opposed to a great one * * * * (out of * * * *) stems from the pet themes I expect from a De Palma film on a whole. As a studio assignment, De Palma’s vision of 1980’s excess is perfect as is Oliver Stone’s script. Same goes for the performances, art deco, John A. Alonzo’s cinematography and music.

    I too love The Godfather Part II (and the original Godfather) as well Steve šŸ™‚ And yes, Al Pacino is one of the many great actors of all-time šŸ™‚

  11. Great post and discussion in the comments John. Between you Steve and Beetley Pete, I don’t think there is much I can add. I must admit I didn’t watch much of Mark Cousin’s Moviedrome, The Warriors is the only film that springs to mind. I know he had big shoes to fill, but from what I’ve heard here he didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts.

  12. I agree with Paul S., lol. Not much I can add here after that intense discussion.
    One thing is for sure, just like Star Wars with “the Force” and many other references, Scarface’s “Say hello to my little friend” joined the lexicon with just as much force and staying power!
    As for Heaven’s Gate…I saw it SO many years ago, but the fact that I can remember how beautiful it was and the feeling it left me–a subtle, lazy sort of sense of doom laced with a dreamy sense of awe at the stark vividness of everything–must be a testament to a film that sadly ballooned so far over budget and became so terribly underrated in the intervening years. šŸ™‚

  13. Why thank you for adding in Paul S šŸ™‚ During the Mark Cousins years, the choices, with the exception of this season, seemed to get slimmer and slimmer as each season passed. The same was reportedly said about the show’s budget. Nice mention of The Warriors though, a true cult classic šŸ™‚ Anyway, thanks for dropping by šŸ™‚

  14. To Selizabryandmailcom: I totally agree with you on that šŸ™‚ I was never disputing that Scarface did not deserve any of it’s cult acclaim, I was just stating that when compared to quintessential Brian De Palma, Scarface only comes off as very good as opposed to great by comparison. Scarface does come close to greatness judging by the fact that I gave it * * * 1/2 (Out of * * * *) stars.

    I love your description of how Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate felt to you and along with me and Pete, I am glad to see that not only have you heard of the film and it’s production history, but that you also saw it and loved it. The cinematography was by the late great Vilmos Zsigmond. That, the production design and the costumes vividly shape this authentic American masterpiece. Make no mistake, Cimino did not need to repeatedly tear down sets to achieve accuracy (I personally think he could have worked around that), but enough time has passed and with fresh eyes, we can judge the film for ourselves šŸ™‚ As for me, I will say it again, Heaven’s Gate is a misunderstood American masterpiece šŸ™‚ Anyway, thanks for dropping by šŸ™‚

  15. Oh, yeah, about Scarface, I wasn’t disagreeing with you at all; sorry if it came off that way, lol!! Just saying my husband says, “Say hello to my lil’ friend,” at least twice a year in various random situations that apply, so I was thinking about that line and how famous it is, ha ha. I mean, the rest of it, I saw it long ago just like Heaven’s Gate, but I do NOT have the same warm feelings OR memories of Scarface that I do with the latter, so… you know. Whomp, there it is, lol !!

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