Sun, 11 May 2003

Al Pacino: Star who shows no sign of fading

Joko Anwar, Contributor, Jakarta

If there was a meter that measured the screen presence of an actor, Al Pacino would probably knock the indicator off the board.

He does not need thumping techno music a la The Matrix to make a big entrance -- his sad hound's eyes that juxtapose his rugged face alone are capable of grabbing the audience's attention.

Even as a blind man in Scent of a Woman, his arguably strongest physical assets shine brightly enough to burn through the screen.

His show-stopping scenes have taken large bytes out of many film-goers' movie memories, whether when he was dancing with Gabrielle Anwar, shooting down gangsters or giving a locker-room speech to a bunch of football players.

Thus, the title The Greatest Movie Star of All Time can only do justice to the 63-year-old actor's career -- the great actor can surely take it.

He was chosen as the one most worthy of the title by British film fans in a poll that took place on the Channel 4 website and by text message over a six-week period.

More than 25,000 people cast their votes for candidates on a list that was compiled by a panel of film critics and filmmakers.

The poll result, which was announced last week, showed that Pacino outshines the likes of Robert de Niro and Tom Hanks, who came in at number two and three respectively. Michael Douglas came in at number 100.

With a career spanning more than 30 years, Pacino has arguably achieved more than most actors listed alongside him.

He has starred in 34 films to date, winning an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his embittered ex-colonel character in Scent of a Woman, before winning another Golden Globe for his gritty performance as a cop fighting his corrupt partners in Serpico. He has received seven Academy Awards nominations and 10 for the Golden Globes.

To older and younger audiences alike, Pacino has been an ultimate icon of the kind of on-screen cool that can only be matched by Hong Kong's king of cool, Chow Yun Fat.

His childhood life is somewhat similar to those of most gifted artists and in this sense, a cliche, but nonetheless one that, strangely enough, never stops being inspirational.

Pacino grew up in a poor family in the South Bronx, New York, by his mother and grandparents after his father, a 20-year-old at that time, walked out on them when Pacino was only two years old.

Like many other young kids who need more direction and guidance than they can get at home, Pacino turned to the movies. His daily antics included reenacting the plots and mimicking the voices of the characters from the movies he saw with his mother.

And guess what? He was no academic, and decided to leave school at the age of 17 after he could no longer bear feeling bored and unmotivated.

He then took odd jobs as an office mail boy, a messenger and a theater usher while taking acting class in his spare time.

Pacino actually first explored his love for acting on stage.

During a long period of poverty -- he often had to borrow money for the bus to go to an audition -- he appeared in various plays. His debut was in off-Broadway productions of The Connection and Hello There.

He finally got his big break in The Indian Wants the Bronx, for which he won an Obie Theater Award in 1968. The following year, he won the prestigious Tony Award for Does the Tiger Wear a Necktie?

Even today, Pacino still says that theater was his first love.

He moved on to the silver screen as a minor supporting actor in Me, Natalie in 1969, but it was his gritty and convincing portrayal as a drug addict in The Panic in Needle Park (1971) that made the movie industry sit up and begin to pay some real attention to him.

It was Francis Ford Coppola who opened the door to fame and fortune to him, when the director offered him the role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972).

The International Movie Database ( says the role was one of the most sought-after roles in film history, as stars who were already household names at that time, including Robert Redford, Robert de Niro, Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, were being considered for the role.

Coppola went against everybody involved in the production, including his producers and other cast members who did not want Pacino. The producers even referred to the unknown Italian actor as "that midget Pacino" every time they talked about him behind his back.

However, he proved everybody wrong -- except Coppola: His performance as the reluctant son of a big mafia don who thrusts him into the family business won him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

He continued to shine with another highly memorable performance in Serpico and in 1974, Pacino came back as Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part II, which also gave him another Oscar nomination.

Pacino then appeared in a pair of excellent films, Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and ...And Justice for All (1977), before starring in two flops, Cruising (1980) and Author! Author! (1982).

However, he gained great momentum in the ultra-violent Scarface (1983) in the title role of Tony Montana.

Unfortunately, the next project was a monumental failure, a film about the American Civil War titled Revolution (1985), which bombed in spectacular fashion.

The troubled production -- equipment was destroyed in terrible weather, the script was changing constantly and Pacino had a bout of pneumonia -- proved to be a disaster for the careers of everyone involved, including director Hugh Hudson who had directed the highly praised Chariots of Fire (1981).

Pacino disappeared for four years.

In its June 3, 2002 edition, Newsweek reported that Revolution had hurt Pacino emotionally, since the film was hated by the audience and critics alike.

In 1989, Pacino finally returned top form in Sea of Love, directed by Harold Becker.

Since then, he continued to appear in a string of great movies, including The Godfather, Part III (1990), Dick Tracy (1990), Frankie and Johnny (1991), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), and so on.

His latest films have only carved his name deeper into the walls of film history, including last year's Insomnia.

Even though some films may seem to be passable lulls, such as The Recruit and People I Know -- the latter is now playing in local theaters -- nobody would dare tell him that he did not give 100 percent of his talent and effort to each and every movie.

We just have to sit tight and wait patiently for the next sighting of this film great, just like waiting for a glimpse of a traveling comet.

And it seems Pacino's star will continue to shine burningly bright, even as generations of young stars rise and fall.