Sunday, April 06, 2008

Scarface in Miami (25 years ago)

Miami New Times
Scarface in Miami
Twenty-five years ago this month, the gangster epic caused a local stir.
By Francisco Alvarado, Frank Houston, Tamara Lush, and Amy Guthrie
Published: April 3, 2008
The Day Scarface Came to Town
Twenty-five years ago, politics derailed De Palma's Miami plans.


Brian De Palma's Scarface might hold a record for the movie with the most fucks per minute. The gangster epic, parts of which were shot in Miami Beach 25 years ago this month, includes 223 variants of the word fuck, according to the DVD release. That's an average of 1.3 per minute.

Scarface defined excessive. In addition to Al Pacino's wretched Cuban accent, the machine-gun-happy flick sprayed 2,048 shots across its 170 minutes — or a bullet every five seconds.

A few of those blasts were captured in snapshots by Bill Cooke, who in April 1983 was employed as a valet at a condo building in Miami Beach. He was working the day shift one Saturday when he heard from a co-worker that cameras would be rolling on Ocean Drive.

Click here to see some of Bill Cooke's Scarface pictures

"I hurried down and parked a block away," Cooke recalls. Nikon in hand, he headed to a spot filled with spectators, across the street from the Beacon Hotel. "I'd been on a couple of movie sets before, and when you are uninvited, you really have no clue about what's going to take place."

Over and over again, Cooke recalls, an armed Pacino chased another actor into the street, shot him, andbolted in a beat-up Chevy.

In fact much of the production crew had already ditched town. It turned out the politics surrounding the filming were even more extreme than Scarface's violence. Months before De Palma yelled "Action!" on the Beach, screenwriter Oliver Stone's story of Tony Montana — a Marielito turned coke smuggler — had rankled the Cuban exile community.

"The basic message of the movie seems to be drugs, killing, and criminal activities. That does not represent the majority of hard-working and law-abiding Cubans," Miami Dade College president Eduardo Padron, who was then head of the Spanish-American League Against Discrimination, told the Miami Herald in August 1982. Then-Miami city Commissioner Demetrio Perez Jr. threatened to deny film permits unless Montana was recast as a Communist agent who infiltrated the United States at Castro's behest.

"We are not doing a film about Cubans in Miami. We're doing a picture about one gangster," producer Martin Bregman told the Herald. "The movie has more crooked Jews than crooked Cubans." Bregman, who helped with Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, promised to "make an idiot" out of Perez. Later he declared the movie would be shot elsewhere.

"He was a very stupid man," Bregman says of Perez in a telephone interview from his New York office. "And I told him that."

Despite the intervention of then-Florida Gov. Bob Graham, the $15 million production decamped to Los Angeles. Bregman estimates that, at most, 20 percent of the film was made in Miami. "We had intended to shoot the whole film there," he adds. Bregman says he was visited by Cuban-Americans from Union City, New Jersey, who "were convinced this film was being financed by Fidel Castro. It was beyond silly."

Cooke, who went on to a career in photojournalism, also fell victim to the politics of the day. Though a Herald photo editor had told him the paper would publish his pictures that Sunday, none appeared. "The higherups had killed the photo," Cooke says. "It seems that Sunday was the third anniversary of the Mariel boatlift."

1 comment:

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