Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Book Review: Say Hello To My Little Friend by Nat Segaloff

 The first time I knew there was a movie named Scarface was when I saw a series of advertisements featuring classic movies in Reader's Digest when I was a small kid. That was the first time I saw Al Pacino, and the ruthlessness on his face was riveting. Later, I watched his other movies, like The Godfather and The Devil's Advocate, before finally landing on Scarface. I was more impressed by the way Al Pacino carried his role than by the movie. It was a display of sheer madness and aggression. I watched the movie a couple more times through the years, and it kind of grew with each view.

Say Hello to My Little Friend is a book about Scarface, written by Nat Segaloff, who is a film historian. I received an advance copy of the book from its publisher, Kensington Books, through Netgalley. The movie, released in 1983, is turning forty this year, but the book examines the phenomenon of Scarface from its beginning—a century back when Hollywood first got enamoured with gangsters.

I have read many books about movies. Normally, they tend to be the biography of a star or a director, artistic appraisals, movie reviews, the history of the making of a movie, or trivia about movies. This small volume surprisingly covers each of the above aspects concerning Scarface. Instead of limiting itself to the 1983 version, the book examines the very first novel version by Armitage Trail, the first movie version of 1932, the 1983 version directed by Brian DePalma, its novelization, and finally the video game adaptation.

The book also provides historical and cultural contexts behind each of these versions and explains how and why they were made and how each of them impacted society and movies. The book gives a detailed account of the 1932 Scarface's troubled history with the Hays Code and several compromises they had to accommodate in the movie to ensure it could be released.

The 1983 version didn't face much heat prior to its production, though there were objections about Al Pacino's violent portrayal of the protagonist, Tony Montana, as a Cuban immigrant. Many Cuban-Americans feared that the aggression displayed by the character may paint Cuban immigrants in a bad light and may result in racial stereotyping. But compared to the original version, the makers were more free to explore the character in all his reckless, vain glory. The shift from the original alcohol prohibition period to more contemporary cocaine dealing made the movie more hard-hitting and important.

Though the makers claimed that the movie denounced the drug culture through the violent end its hero met in its climax, the journey till then is accused of being a blatant endorsement of cocaine. When the movie was released, critics savagely attacked it, and the box office was also not generous. But cable runs and home video resulted in the renaissance of Scarface's popularity. Soon it was endorsed by hip-hoppers for its philosophy of acquiring power through force and the bastardised American Dream. Several songs were written and recorded that were based on the movie and its characters.

Say Hello to My Little Friend is a book that explores the movie Scarface along with its historical baggage and its societal consequences. It tries to get a peek inside the minds of its actors, like Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, director DePalma, and writer Oliver Stone. It compares the different versions of Scarface and explains why each version is the way it is. Overall, it is an efficient, small volume that is indispensable for any movie buff who would like to know more about the cultural phenomenon. But if you haven't watched Scarface already, I would advise watching it first, as the book contains spoilers for all the versions of it.

1 comment:

  1. Books about movies can be pretty boring - piggyback riders. This seems an exception.