PHILADELPHIA — The movie year is 1983.
The Oscar contenders include "The Big Chill," ''Yentl," ''Silkwood."
The winner is "Terms of Endearment."
Across the country, all the good little boys and girls line up to see "Return of the Jedi," with its furry Ewoks.
Hollywood's idea of an action movie is "Octopussy," starring tea-sipping Roger Moore.
Then, in December, like a 20-ton hunk of crack plopped in the placid millpond of American movies, comes "Scarface."
Chainsaw slaughter. Giant mounds of cocaine. Former pin-striped "Godfather" Al Pacino dropping f-bombs in a Cuban accent, spraying Miami with gunfire, getting high on his own supply, going out in a blaze of gory.
A typical review: "Wallows in excess and unpleasantness for nearly three hours."
Maybe so, but nearly 30 years later, nobody's rereleasing "Terms of Endearment" in hundreds of theaters nationwide, and nobody is looking for "Yentl" sneakers online, or wearing "Big Chill" denim and rhinestone jackets, or preordering another special edition of "Octopussy."
"Scarface," on the other hand, is more popular than ever. There's a theatrical reissue Wednesday (one day only), yet another special edition Blu-ray coming next Tuesday, and a wealth of merchandise still selling online.
"Scarface" lives, and if it happens to live in infamy, that would please Tony Montana, played fearlessly to the hilt by Pacino.
Young actor Steven Bauer (Manny in the movie) remembers being mesmerized by Pacino's full-tilt interpretation of Tony.
"When we were on the set, even when we were reading the script, we thought this could be momentous. But when we were shooting it, there was also a feeling of dread, and it came from the way that Al attacked that character," said Bauer, who hung out with Pacino in his RV, first in Miami, then in Los Angeles, where the production moved after the crew received death threats.
"I asked him, 'Al, how do you think people are going to respond to that? Right away, or in years to come?'" Bauer recalled, mindful that moviegoers so closely identified Pacino with his self-controlled Michael Corleone in "The Godfather."
"He said, 'People are either going to hate it or love it, but it's not going to be dismissable,' " Bauer remembered. "At the time, nobody really knew. There were some people, even people on the set, who thought this might go down in history as the worst movie ever made by really talented artists. And for like the first year, that's what most critics thought, that it was a piece of (crap)."
Bauer's personal investment in the movie was immense. He was an untested actor with a few TV spots who'd passed on a starring role ("Running Brave," later made with Robby Benson) for an outside shot to play Manny.
Bauer (given name Esteban Echevarria) was the only main "Scarface" actor who was actually born in Cuba, and was brought to the States at age 3 — and he believed that his cultural input was essential.
Looking back, he thinks it's the reason producer Martin Bregman essentially reserved the part for him, when the studio faced pressure to hire John Travolta or Eric Roberts.
Bauer was a walking, talking reference source for the cast. He could, and did, school actors (particularly Pacino) on the history and mind-set of Cuban emigres.
"I talked about my life, my dad's life, our culture, our self-deprecating sense of humor, our view of ourselves of having been a people who lost our country," he said.
Pacino modeled his accent on Bauer's father.
"I put Al on the phone with my dad so he could hear Dad's voice. Listen to him tell jokes, tell stories, really get a sense of that so he could use it when we started shooting in Miami."
Bauer said the cast and crew weathered the bad reviews, and took much satisfaction from the fact that "Scarface" did well at the box office (16th among movies released that year).
Still, it was many years before Bauer realized that "Scarface" had carved a special niche for itself in American culture, adopted by hip-hop artists, their fans, and eventually spreading further.
"I was watching TV one night and I heard Chris Berman announcing a home run, and he uses Tony's line, 'Say hello to my little friend.' And I say, 'Holy s — he's seen 'Scarface.'"
In the months and years to come, he learned that just about everybody had seen "Scarface" — the movie was to VHS and DVD what "Dark Side of the Moon" was to record albums.
"People start telling me about all the hip-hop guys who use the dialogue in their lyrics, all the rappers on 'MTV Cribs' who've turned their homes into 'Scarface' shrines."
Bauer laughs at the movie's outrageous change in fortune.
"For a long time, it was like the movie had leprosy. Now it's a classic. So this is a really beautiful time."