Beginning on March 14, Quad Cinema in New York City is presenting a 31-film retrospective of Al Pacino movies. They include his biggest hits, like Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Scarface, Scent of a Woman, and two Godfather films, plus some of his favorite flops, a couple he directed, and some new films. Ahead of the event, Pacino talked with David Edelstein about his long career, starting when he was a 16-year dropout of the famous High School of the Performing Arts, and running through his most important roles.
Here’s what Pacino wants you to take away from the retrospective, especially if you think he’s often the same in every role onscreen — if you always say, “Oh, that’s Al”: “It’s an overview of an acting artist from the Village, really,” he says, and suggests looking at his four gangsters, Michael Corleone, Tony Montana in Scarface, Carlito from Carlito’s Way, and Lefty Ruggiero in Donnie Brasco. They couldn’t be more different. Pacino’s Montana is huge and burns like a filament, a purposely two-dimensional character in a film that the director, Brian De Palma, called a “Brechtian opera” — and Pacino loves how Tony became a cultural icon, however cataclysmic the trajectory. Carlito, on the other hand, is a man who gets out of prison and wants to put his life in order — the opposite of Montana, who manufactures chaos. Lefty is a Mafia middleman, a second-rater striving to rise in the ranks but brought down by a surrogate son who turns out to be an undercover FBI agent.
Sometimes, Pacino says, he goes overboard, sometimes underboard.
“But as Lee Strasberg used to say, ‘Don’t do what you can do. Do what you can’t do. That’s how you learn.’ ”
Read more about the life and times of Al Pacino in his own words at Vulture.