Today the BFI Southbank begin a celebration of the career of Al Pacino, so to mark the season ATV Today adds Al to our Hall of Fame.
Al Pacino was born in New York City in 1940 to Italian American parents Salvatore Pacino and Rose. Pacino studied acting first at the Herbert Berghof Studio, then under Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York – where he is currently co-president alongside Ellen Burstyn and Harvey Keitel.
During this time Pacino performed a number of minor stage roles, which eventually led to his breakthrough film role in The Panic in Needle Park (1971). Under the direction of Jerry Schatzberg, – whom he would work with again on the Palme d’Or winning Scarecrow – Pacino shone as a young New Yorker addicted to heroin. Following this role Pacino came to the attention of Francis Ford Coppola and despite reported protestations from studio execs at Paramount, he was cast in The Godfather (1972) as Michael Corleone, a role which proved to be career-making. The follow up The Godfather Part II (1974), netted Pacino a second Oscar nomination for the role, and The Godfather Part III completed the trilogy in 1990.
In less than a decade Pacino quickly established himself as one of the finest actors of his generation by adding a further three Oscar nominations for Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and …And Justice for All (1979), all of which will screen during the BFI Al Pacino season.
Pacino’s foul-mouthed, power-crazed, coke-fuelled Cuban Tony Montana was another career highlight. With direction from Brian De Palma and a script by Oliver Stone, Scarface (1983) has, despite a lacklustre reception from critics, become a firm favourite amongst fans of the mob film genre.
Also screening at the BFI will be Revolution (Revised) (1985). This film about the experiences of a fur-trapper during the American War of Independence was famously released in a cut that director Hugh Hudson was not entirely happy with, and it performed poorly at the box office; this edit had around 10 minutes of footage cut and a voiceover added to clarify parts of the narrative, resulting in a revised version that was received by critics much more favourably when it was first released in the UK by the BFI on DVD and Blu-Ray in 2012.
After his remarkable first decade in film, the 1980s were a comparatively quiet time for Pacino in terms of film roles, not least because the response to Revolution led him to focus on theatre for several years. But with his warmly welcomed return to the screen in 1989’s Sea of Love, followed by a scene-stealing cameo in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (1990), his film career was soon back on track.
The second half of the BFI season focuses on his high profile roles, most notably an ageing Michael Corleone in the final instalment of the Godfather trilogy in 1990. There was another Oscar nomination for Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), then, belatedly, a Best Actor win for Scent of a Woman (1992). These were followed by meaty roles in Michael Mann’s Heat (1995), The Insider (1999), Mike Newell’s Donnie Brasco (1997) and Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia (2001).
Many of Pacino’s most memorable performances have been in crime movies or dramas with a strong sense of risk, violence and vulnerability. He is well suited to the nervy mood of noir and was seductively Satanic in The Devil’s Advocate (1997). Ambiguity and instability are core to his best work: he excels at playing characters who, like Heat’s Vincent Hanna, may shift in a second from relatively ‘normal’ behaviour to a scary, near-manic intensity; or characters like Insomnia’s Will Dormer, fundamentally good yet profoundly flawed. This recognition of the complexity of individuals is echoed in the actor’s abiding love of Shakespeare, given most eloquent expression in Looking for Richard (1996). As the years have passed, the energy in Pacino’s early work has remained gloriously in evidence.
Throughout February and March BFI Southbank will celebrate the career of one of the world’s most popular living stage and screen actors, Al Pacino. More details can be found at the BFI website www.bfi.org.uk/southbank