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Cinematography of “Scarface” Film by Brian De Palma

“He loved the American dream. With a vengeance” (IMDb, n.d., para. 1). This statement is the tagline of the movie called Scarface (1983). Scarface is a gangster drama that shows the audience the world of organized crime. According to Wilson (2014), “the gangster film, unlike other film genres, is the only genre whose nomenclature is centered on an individual, rather than a concept” (p. 3). This genre’s characteristic can be noticed in the movie Scarface that shows the path of Tony Montana, the main character played by Al Pacino, to becoming the most powerful criminal leader in Miami. In his film Scarface, the director Brian De Palma is focused on demonstrating Tony’s violent way towards the American dream through cinematography, lighting, music, and acting techniques.

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The introduction scene is the scene that shows Tony Montana being interviewed by immigration officers trying to find out whether he is safe to enter the United States of America or not. It becomes obvious to the viewers that Tony tells lies because of his facial expression and the tone of voice. These first minutes of the movie lay the foundation of the plot and allow the viewers to understand that Tony is a criminal.

Cinematography and lighting techniques

The expression “the American dream” is a significant point of American culture. This concept is associated with immigrants who come to the United States of America to get a better life. The movie begins with shots that show the arrival of Cuban refugees to Florida. These scenes resemble TV news and documentaries shooting. De Palma uses some techniques which are used for shooting documentaries: firstly, he gets some wide angles looking down on the arriving crowd, then he shoots close-ups of immigrant faces and then some people from the ground level. What is more, these shots look like amateur shooting due to their poor quality. These scenes are important because they allow the audience to feel the atmosphere of despair and understand where the cruelty comes from.

Apart from this, in his movie, Brian De Palma concentrates and pays a lot of attention to violence. As Stevenson (2013) reports, “Scarface was given an ‘X’ rating three times (original, second, and third cuts) for extreme violence, frequent strong language, and hard drug usage” (p. 34). The brightest example of violent actions is the first drug deal scene or the chainsaw scene. To shot this scene, the director uses a mixed variety of cinematographic and lighting techniques. The director uses close-ups to emphasize the chainsaw that makes the audience feel Tony’s fear. The red color of blood and Tony’s shirt refers to violence, and it accentuates the atmosphere of death, cruelty, and anger. Another point to make in this scene is lighting techniques. Brian De Palma uses two different types of lighting in the chainsaw scene. The first type is three-point lighting which helps to underline terror, filth, and disgust when Antonio watches his friend Angel murdered by the chainsaw. Due to this technique, the viewer can see drops of sweat and blood on the walls and Tony’s face very clearly. Another type of lighting, which is used in this scene, is natural lighting. The car scene outside the building is shot in the daytime when light is bright. Due to this natural lighting, the viewer can appreciate the realism of the scene and literally to feel the light of the sun.

Music

Also, violence as a theme is used in Scarface through the music. Music is an essential part of the plot and inseparable from the picture. The music of Scarface is produced by Italian record producer Giorgio Moroder who specializes in disco and electronic dance music. “Scarface employs music as a recorded material to conduct performances, experiences, and energies whose symbolic function and textural weight are elucidated by the aural materiality of its soundtrack” (Richardson, Corbman, & Vernallis, 2015, p. 314). The soundtrack consists of electronic music, which resembles the sounds of gunshots. Due to it, Moroder’s fast and hurried club tracks reflect the pace of Tony’s life and violence that surrounds him. Thus, music helps the audience to dive deeper into the movie and feel the criminal atmosphere.

Acting style

Besides, the theme of violence can be noticed through the act of persuasion. Actors use specific styles to make the viewer believe they are real criminals and killers. For instance, the movie Scarface is based on foul language. One bad word is used 207 times during the film, and the periodicity of the use of this word is 1.22 times per minute. Al Pacino, who plays the main character Tony Montana, has Italian roots, which, to some extent, helps him to play Latin refugee. It seems that he has already experienced all these violent events in his real life. Al Pacino plays his role ideally, and it is confirmed by the fact that he was nominated for the Golden Glove Award in 1984. Steven Bauer deserves special attention because he is surprising for his depth of performance. His style of acting is stylized acting. As well as Pacino’s acting, Steven Bauer’s performance makes Scarface so realistic. He was also nominated for the Golden Glove Award.

Design elements

The theme of violence is established in many visual and audio layers; attention is drawn to sound, color, and material items such as blood, guns, and drugs that symbolize cruelty. Due to it, the viewer understands the drug world of Miami better. Also, expensive cars, fancy clothes, and shiny jewelry perfectly reflect the spirit of the rich drug dealers of the eighties. Nevertheless, actor’s costumes and makeup show the glamorous side of the criminal world and go against the theme of violence. However, it is an essential contrast between the American dream and the way towards it.

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Other techniques

De Palma uses very effective techniques that contribute to the establishment of the theme of violence. Other techniques such as slow motion and tracking shots can be implemented. However, these techniques are not necessary because they might distract the viewer’s attention from the plot.

To sum up, Brian De Palma’s film Scarface is a gangster drama that shows the viewer the life of Cuban refugee Tony Montana. The theme of violence is demonstrated in the movie. The use of different cinematographic and lighting techniques allows the audience to dive deeper into the plot of Scarface. With red color and such elements as drops of sweat and blood, the viewer can feel the atmosphere of violence and terror. Whereas, the elegant appearance of characters underlines the glamorous side of the drug business. This movie has become a legend; the film had a significant impact on the development of hip-hop and rap culture in the eighties. Many rappers and hip-hop artists used the name of the movie, the tagline or quotes in their songs; a lot of prominent people named Scarface their favorite movie.

References

IMDb. (n.d.). Scarface. Web.

Richardson, J., Gorbman, C., & Vernallis, C. (2015). The Oxford handbook of new audiovisual aesthetics (Oxford handbooks). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Stevenson D. (2013). Scarface: The ultimate guide. Los Angeles, CA: Enhanced Media.

Wilson, R. (2014). The gangster film: Fatal success in American cinema. New York, NY: Wallflower Press.

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StudyCorgi. "Cinematography of “Scarface” Film by Brian De Palma." January 3, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/cinematography-of-scarface-film-by-brian-de-palma/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Cinematography of “Scarface” Film by Brian De Palma." January 3, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/cinematography-of-scarface-film-by-brian-de-palma/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Cinematography of “Scarface” Film by Brian De Palma'. 3 January.

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