Thursday, June 28, 2007

AL PACINO: Man of the Hour

“Say Hello To My little Friend!”

If you don’t know that line you probably don't know who Tony Montana was nor you have not seen Al Pacino at his wicked- best. And I would probably say that you missed one of the best "bleep" movie of all “bleep’ time!

Those were the words that cocaine- powered Tony Montana in the movie Scarface hurled to his enemies behind the door before unleashing the M- 203 grenade launcher at them in one of the highlights of the brutal and savage film by Brian de Palma and script written by Oliver Stone in the early 80’s.

Last night, his colleagues at the American Film Institute (AFI) and his legions of fans have once again said hello to this diminutive man by Hollywood standards but a giant one in stature both in life and on the screen by presenting him the 35th AFI Life Achievement Award reserved only for the silver screen’s elite. The televised show was actually held at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, CA days earlier.

I’ve watched the show on USA Network amused, enlightened and in awe of the actor as his friends and colleagues recalled their various encounters and moments with one of Hollywood’s foremost icon who sat and watch from his seat applauding and sometimes teary- eyed and exclaimed in the end that he “needs a character” in reference to his having been at a loss for words for the first time in his life.

Al Pacino is one lucky guy indeed in the dog-eat-dog world of show business having figured and acted prominently in many of the most thought- provoking and influential films of all time.

He is one actor who put his life into every character that he plays down to the minute details that gained him the respect of his peers and fans alike. His talent, versatility, hard work and dedication that he put in every role make him a very good role model for new actors learning their chops.

The list of his great movies is quite long but here’s a few that will surely find their way into any movie fanatic’s list of must- haves--The Godfather Trilogy, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Carlito’s Way and of course, Scent of A Woman where he finally won an Oscar for Best Actor in 1992 after years of being snubbed by the Academy by playing the role of the blind Lt. Colonel Frank Slade and in the process danced with the lithe and beautiful Gabrielle Anwar.

The power and influence of a man as they say can be measured by the respect that his peers have for and had given him. If so, what I witnessed last night as they gave an endless parade of tributes and accolades to the Man of the Hour was a fitting witness to his immense talent and pull among Hollywood’s best and brightest stars.

The show opened with Robin Williams acknowledging the night’s Honoree’s looming presence in the crowd and said that “ you put Robert de Niro in a dryer and you got Al Pacino” and proceeded to raise a glass of wine for him.

Sir Sean Connery lamented that they have “known each other for 30 years and never worked together which was my loss.” He added that “ I was in that chair last year and I know how it feels--there’s nowhere to hide!” that elicited laughter from the audience.

Then they showed clips from Serpico showing him with a beard, his character's unorthodox ways and such that in those days was a big no- no for a normal clean- shaven policeman and Dog Day Afternoon where he played the role of Sonny Wortzik wherein he was shown ranting outside a bank he’s trying to rob so that his “gay” lover can have a sex- change operation, a controversial role which was a major risk at that time for any actor who value his money and star power.

On a side note, a thought occurred to me that, that kind of standoff which lasted 13 hours while holding 11 people hostage will never happen in the Philippines for the moment he steps out of the bank, he will be dead meat from some trigger- happy policemen who were only too willing to get the job done and end the situation asap and go home. Ha-ha.

“Are you sober, could you read the script again?” showed how persistence can pay off and in this case for Frank Pierson (the scriptwriter won an Oscar for the movie) by getting a reluctant but talented actor to star in the sensitive film.

It was also said that Al Pacino turned down the script seven times before finally agreeing to do the film and once again defied the norm and helped change our outlook of what a film should be.

Jamie Foxx who starred with Al in Any Given Sunday thanked him, “ for allowing a young African- American for getting this thing on” and proceeded to tell about his experiences with the man--“no ego, played chess together in his trailer” wherein addressing Al and confessing, “ I let you win because I need to hear more stories…”

He went on with his story wherein in one of his scenes with the esteemed actor, “ I tasted you, I noticed wetness flying on my face! What do you call that mouth moisture? I said to myself, this is the greatest actor in the world but I need a squeegee!” that brought the house down.

Jamie then addressed the crowd as he mimicked Al Pacino, “Your Juiciness, I got Al Pacino almost in my mouth…I took the juice, I took the DNA inside of me and the next thing you know I won an Oscar!”

Oliver Stone for his part shared three things about the lessons and influence of Scarface: “That every dog has his day” and that “if you can swallow the poison and live, everyday above ground is a good day” and finally, “no matter how many scripts I write, I think 'fuck you' and 'say hello to my little friend' as my contribution to the culture.”

And added that with Pacino's Tony Montana, you can finally say “goodnight to the bad guy, you’ll never see a guy this bad again.”

Scent of a Woman co- star Chris O’ Donnell shared some insights of Mr. Pacino’s funny side. He was surprised one day that he got a letter from him stating, “I couldn’t tell what you’re doing because I sort of never saw you but I heard you’re outstanding! ” Of course we all know that he played a blind military man in the movie.

Two lovely ladies who I haven’t seen on film in a long time also paid their respect to the Man--

Gabrielle Anwar who as a teenager danced the sensual tango with Mr. Pacino on the way to the latter's only Academy Award joked that “dancing with Al Pacino is something I haven’t recovered yet” which she quickly added the reference to her big toe to the laughter of the crowd. She still looks lovely if you ask me.

Troubled actress Winona Ryder, another lovely lady and starred with him in his directorial debut in Looking for Richard made a rare appearance and admitted that he “ wooed me and he won me and he utterly seduced me…Not only as Lady Anne to his Richard…Still completely and utterly seduced. “

And looking straight into Mr. Pacino’s large dark eyes uttered seductively, “And I would give my kingdom, my kingdom to be wooed by you again.”

The American Film Institute (AFI) is a non- profit organization that was created in 1967 to preserve America’s Film Heritage and train future filmmakers which was made possible when then President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation creating the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 1965 whose Board of Trustees in turn established the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1973.

The AFI Life Achievement Award is recognized and considered to be the highest honor given to a career in film. Stars like Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks, and Meryl Streep as well as Directors Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese just to name a few were all recipients of the prestigious award.

This year’s honoree Al Pacino will be very much at home in their company, all giants of the silver screen and talented actors/actresses in their own right.

One touching moment in the show was when Hollywood’s Nanogenarian Icon and Mr. Spartacus himself, Kirk Douglas, who survived a stroke in 1996 which left him partially impaired valiantly walked to the center of the stage to honor Mr. Pacino.

In his husky, halting and slurry speech he proceeded to say that it is magic when an “actor can convince us that he is blind with his eyes open” and “he is blind but can dance the Tango like Al Pacino” did in Scent of a Woman.

“I know where he gets his magic” he said and stopped abruptly with his speech and spitted a powerful, “hoo-ah!” to the delight of the crowd. ("Hoo-ah" is the often used expression by Mr. Pacino's character Frank Slade)

He then cajoled them to say the magic word together as he counted from 1-2-3 and the Kodak Theater reverberated with a loud chorus of “Hoo-ah!” followed by thunderous laughter and applause.

It was magic indeed seeing Kirk Douglas doing "Hoo-ah!" on stage and still a trooper in his advanced age and state.

Kevin Spaceyfor his part stated that Al Pacino who has two Tonys under his belt “never used theater as a stepping stone for movies and left” for despite his success in film he remained true to his roots by doing stage from in between and also films that are based on plays like the acclaimed Glengarry Glenn Ross for which he earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor the same year that he got his Best Actor trophy from the Academy making him as the first and only (?) male actor to be nominated for two different films in the same year.

Samuel L. Jackson narrated his experience with Pacino as well as his bit role in the movie Sea of Love during his early years in the business which he goes on to say that in the credits he was named only as “Black Guy” after being promoted to a “talking” part from a “clip board guy #2” role.

Then came Mexican- American Comedian George Lopez' turn who made a raucous but funny impersonation of Cuban Tony Montana complete with the accent as well as poking fun at various Hollywood personalities and parodies of some famous films' immortal lines.

Mr. Lopez proclaimed that “Tony Montana was the Lindsay Lohan of the 80s” and that in his films there are a lot of “eating, non-stop drug use, sucking and drinking. It shows you how life is unfair when Al Pacino got an AFI while Paris Hilton is in jail!”

He also revealed that contrary to popular belief it was not Tony Montana who said the famous line “when you got the money, you got the power; when you got the power, you got the woman” and asked the crowd, “you know who said it first? Rosie O’ Donnell!”

George Lopez further explained that Scarface transcends film genre and generation and backed up his claim by quoting famous lines from--Jerry Maguire ("You had me at fuck you!”), Wizard of Oz (“Toto we’re not in fucking Kansas anymore!”) and Gone with the Wind (“Frankly, my dear I don’t give a fuck!”) in obvious reference to the movies record use of the F- word which many people say that if you remove all the cuss words in Scarface you won’t understand the movie at all.

He ended his one- man show by quoting Tony Montana, “You need people like me so that you can point a finger on me and say, that is the bad guy…. or the waiter!” a potshot to the stereotyping of Hispanics in the movies then.

And just before he exited the stage, he got something in his pocket and wipe it on his face and when he looked up again, he was transformed into a Tony Montana’s Coke- smeared face!

"He was magic.”

Kirk Douglas recalled that he was mesmerized by “this guy, this young actor” while watching The Indian Wants the Bronx eons ago and remembered going backstage and telling : “'Mr. Pacino, you're going to be a star.' That was 45 years ago. What took you so long, Al?"

Al Pacino in his speech acknowledged that The Godfather made him a household name and a star and showed gratitude to his Director, Francis Ford Coppola whom he admitted he haven’t seen in a long time and thanked him profusely for standing pat on his choice of the actor that will portray the coveted role of Michael Corleone"

"I hardly ever see him anymore," he said. "Francis didn't just put me in the Godfather. He fought for me. Even when I no longer wanted to be in it. I wouldn't be here without him."

Francis Ford Coppola in his videotaped tribute in turn revealed that while reading the book, The Godfather by Mario Puzo , the only face that he could picture to portray Michael Corleone was Al Pacino and thereby pursued him rabidly against the odds (Paramount Pictures Executives and all).

Come to think of it, it would have been a great loss for all cinema fanatics had Coppola wavered and Pacino had passed on the role. But as they always say, he was destined to be Don Vito Corleone's fair-haired boy.

Michael Mann, who directed Pacino with another equally very talented actor Robert De Niro in Heat as well as in the thriller The Insider with Russel Crowe, confirmed that the actor "doesn't fear. He's willing to go out on a live wire without a net."

The method actor in Al Pacino made him chose some roles that were really quite risky and unconventional. He was never afraid to experiment with his choices that sometimes made his stars plummet and lose some of its luster.

Like in several instances after the success of the first installment of The Godfather Trilogy, he starred in some mediocre flicks and made some daring career moves that alienated his fan base and shunned away from his movies.

It was an open book that he was down on his luck for a time starring in one box office flop after another when the script that will bring back the life in his career dropped into his lap just like that--impressed by his talent and charisma Brian de Palma and Oliver Stone want him to be their Tony Montana in Scarface and so he went to Miami to film the said movie determined to get out of his rut.

And he did get out of his funk and just like that as the old cliché goes that “you cannot put a good actor down,” his career was revitalized and he went on to be the toast of tinseltown, acknowledged by peers and critics alike as one of the best actor of his generation if not of all time.

The record speaks for itself--

He was a two-time Tony Award winner and although he was snubbed by the Academy Awards too many times (7x), he finally bagged the coveted acting plum for his role as Lt. Col. Frank Slade in the 1992 film "Scent of a Woman."

He was also honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 by the Independent Feature Project and The Hollywood Foreign Press Association presented him with its prestigious Cecil B. De Mille Award at the Golden Globes in 2001.

Andy Garcia could have not said it better when he referred to him not only as an artist but a poet and a clown as he praised him deeply and he shared his experiences with the actor and the man:

“The depth of your artistry is only more overwhelmed by the generosity of your spirit and your warmth."

"You're Van Gogh. You're Modigliani. That's who you are."

For all the success and accolades that he received in his career, Mr. Pacino never forgot his roots and showed us the “ordinary” human side of him when after receiving the award from Sean Penn, he was almost speechless for a moment and made light of his nervousness, "I don't have a character tonight."

"I see my life in movies. I have one question. Why aren't I in rehab?" in answer to Andy Garcia roasting him earlier.

He went on with his speech and honored his acting mentors Charlie Laughton and Lee Strasberg for helping him of what he has become today. He said that he studied with them and they gave him the world in return.

He recalled one particular instance where Mr. Strasberg after watching him doing a scene told the class afterwards “you see we take all kinds here” to the delight of the crowd.

He also confessed on “looking at my reflections at subway doors” and telling himself, “hey you’re an actor!”

He added that "Charlie and his beautiful wife" took him in their home at "44th Street and 19th Avenue" when he was a teenager in Manhattan and their home became his home away from the South Bronx.

He mentioned producer Marty Bregman who coaxed him to go to Los Angeles and audition for the The Godfather and Signore Coppola for their roles in shaping his acting and movie career.

And he also thanked Lady- luck for smiling on him.

Surely Al Pacino being well- respected and admired in the world of show business not to mention the clout and the perks that goes with it, is one lucky guy indeed.

So, say hello to my little friend no more, he’s been a GIANT from the very first moment he painted his face into the silver screen.

Let’s watch Andy Garcia do an Al Pacino impersonation and ritual before takes…

Originally Posted in bill blahs as a three- part series 06.19.2007

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