”The hip hop people and the rappers got together and they made a video and they talked about the movie. I dont think anybody ever talked about it as articulately and clearly. I understood it better having heard them talk about it…I mean they really get it and they understand it and that’s a great thing. They’ve been very supportive all these years and I think that’s helped us tremendously”It turns out that several "hip hop people and the rappers" consider "Scarface" to be an American classic. Sean "Diddy" "P. Diddy" "Puff Daddy" "Etc" Combs considers it "One of the hottest movies ever made." Tattoo artist Mr. Cartoon says "That movie had a big effect on LA, period... to see Latinos doing it that big on a screen... that was real big for us."
I pulled those quotes from a movie about "Scarface's" influence, titled "Scarface: Origins of a Hip-Hop Classic." You can actually watch that film on YouTube (it's very NSFW, as you probably expect):
I remember seeing the film on VHS not long after its original theatrical release (it wasn't in theaters very long). I thought it was a disturbing, shocking, boring, overlong, hilarious and exciting viewing experience. I enjoyed it, but I've never been motivated to see it again. I thought Tony Montana was both loathsome and admirable, at least until his own drug use took over his life-- then he just became loathsome. For a long time, I was one of only a very few people I knew who'd actually seen the film. Then I moved to LA, and "Scarface" was all over. It had a massive cult following that I had no idea about, and couldn't fully comprehend. It was sort of the urban version of "Star Wars;" I don't know why so many people like those movies, either.
(Full disclosure: My memories of the film "Scarface" are far more favorable than my memories of the "Star Wars" films.)
Anyway, the film has achieved a second life thanks to its effect on its modern fans. But, do these people who admire the film so much "not get it"? A person called Hunter Duesing, writing at the Big Hollywood website, makes just that claim. He begins by writing that when he first saw the film, he "loved it." But:
Now I kind of hate it.So, Mr. Duesing saw and enjoyed a piece of art that he interpreted in a certain way. People who interpret that piece of art differently from him "don't get it." (The "it" in this case is the piece of art in question.) Apparently, he believes that a piece of art can be interpreted in one way, and one way only:
My dislike of Scarface mainly stems from the movie’s obnoxious fan base. There are many movies and bands I enjoy that are cursed with followers that are beyond irritating, yet I refuse to let them poison the enjoyment I get out of whatever it is they love for erroneous reasons. Scarface is different in that the film’s fans are indicative of the movie’s failings as a story and a as a piece of art. It’s a classic case of rabid fans “not getting it.”
The point of Scarface was to present the dark side of the American dream, giving us the story of an immigrant who gets to the top of the food chain in the most brutal, horrible manner possible, only to lose it all in an explosion of violence.Mr. Duesing plays a semantic game here. He assumes that his own interpretation of the art is the correct -- the only correct -- interpretation. He then says that because people don't see in it what he himself sees, the art is a failure.
This gangster yarn seems to be something people are more keen on worshiping and emulating for the wrong reasons, in that Tony Montana is not a role model, yet he is treated as such by the movie’s fan base. I would argue that for this very reason, the movie is a failure when it comes to presenting its themes.
In fact, just the opposite is true. "Scarface" is all the more rich for the fact that it is open to interpretation. That two different people, from different walks of life, can look at the same piece of art and respond differently is indicative of its power as art. A person like me, growing up in middle class Middle America, in a town in which the population was over 90% white, is likely to respond differently to a film like "Scarface" than someone who grew up in South Central LA, or Watts. For me, "Scarface" was much more abstract. I was distant from it. For others, based on their own life experiences, it could be much more resonant.
A person should never, ever assume that their own interpretation of a piece of art is the only "proper" one.
"Scarface" is a film about a man who works hard to achieve success in his chosen field. His chosen field is the illegal drug trade which is, obviously, illegal. As such, there are certain rules of conduct by which must abide. It's only until he starts his own slide into drug addiction that he stops abiding by these rules, and he pays the price. But even at the end, he goes out on his own terms, without fear or compromise, and totally defiant. I haven't seen "Scarface" since 1984, but I can still vividly remember "I'm Tony Montana! You f*ck with me, you f*cking with the best!" And of course, "Say hello to my little friend!"
He's about to die, he knows it, and yet he still affects an attitude of anger and defiance. That appeals on a visceral level. Anybody can "get" that.
Being open to interpretation is not a failure of art; it's a strength. The world is full of people from all different backgrounds, with a range of experiences. They're going to naturally have differing points of view. Celebrate that -- don't just assume that your way of seeing something is the only way. And for crying out loud don't let that get in the way of appreciating something for yourself.