Though Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983) is considered a ‘mob film’ and starts out as such, by the time Tony Montana reaches his gargantuan gilded bathtub it’s really more about drugs – specifically cocaine – and its ability to sabotage relationships and induce paranoia.
If, amid all the trademark De Palma violence, Tony’s alienation from wife Elvira and best friend Manny felt quite personal, that’s because. for screenwriter Oliver Stone, it was.
He was originally brought on board to write a fairly faithful remake of Howard Hawks’ 1932 film of the same name, but found that he was able to mine his own problems with cocaine addiction to create a script with more depth.
“I was a cocaine addict for about two-and-a-half years prior to writing Scarface,” Stone told Sabotage Times in 2015. “I knew that world, the drug world of the early ‘80s very well.”
This wasn’t a Hunter S. Thompson-esque situation though, where the drugs not only formed but helped sculpt the text – the Platoon director had to “go cold turkey” to write the script, being of the opinion that cocaine in no way helps writing. He ultimately ended up moving to Paris to sober up and write the script, telling Empire in 2011 that he “knew [he] couldn't break the habit in Florida [where the film is set], LA or New York.”
Art so often stems from pain, and flushing that pain from brain to paper proved cathartic for Stone.
“Cocaine had screwed me so much,” he recalled. “It had taken so much of my money that now I needed to take my revenge and so I wrote Scarface.
“In the past, I’ve talked about Scarface as being a farewell love letter to cocaine, but it’s really me taking my revenge on the drug.”
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