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7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: 'I had been in that world' - Oliver Stone reflects on writing Scarface

Settle down in a comfy chair with some of the week’s best longreads.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked some of the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. Scarface

scarface-scarface-usa-1983-regie-brian-de-palma-al-pacino Al Pacino as Tony Montana in the 1983 film Scarface. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In this excerpt from a new book, which explores the making of the iconic film, writer-director Oliver Stone talks about taking a deep dive into the 1980s drugs underworld to write the script for Scarface – all while struggling with his own addiction to cocaine.

(GQ, approx 24 mins reading time)

In order to write, Stone had to get off the cocaine he’d been using to lift his spirits after the failure of The Hand. This would prove tricky, as his initial research on the cocaine trade would put him in rather close proximity to, well, the cocaine trade. “I did all the research for Scarface on cocaine, in and out of the country. It was quite interesting because I understood that world better than if I had not done it. Al, on the contrary, had never done anything like that. He’d never even done cocaine. So, he didn’t know. Marty took me down to Miami, and he introduced me to a dozen people who were very helpful. And then, I expanded my contacts from there, outward.

“I talked to several police departments, and I tried to get as close to the gangsters as I could; but that wasn’t so easy. I talked to defense lawyers, of course, who were very important to contact. I went to Bimini to actually confront what was the trade, the nightly trade, going into Miami on cigarette boats. And also, prior to that, I’d been to South America, in Peru. I’d been there on another thing that I had been working on, years before, with a very knowledgeable journalist. This was not the El Salvador guy on whom I based my film Salvador; this is another thing completely. I had been in that world, and I’d been ingesting the material. So, I knew a lot in the sense of the feeling of it and the fear of being in that world.” It was from that fear that Stone conceived the film’s notorious chainsaw scene.

2. Animal actors

Meet Bill Berloni, the A-list animal trainer who helps prepare all creatures great and small for their roles in Hollywood film, the latest being a Great Dane for new movie ‘The Friend’.

(The New Yorker, approx 25 mins reading time)

Seasoned film producers might dispense droll prohibitions against kids and dogs, but rare is the IMDb page without them. Rin Tin Tin, a battlefield rescue from the First World War, was the cash cow that propelled the career of Darryl Zanuck and the rise of Warner Bros.; Lassie got the industry through the star-wary years of the Red Scare. Meanwhile, trainers built their own careers and fortunes. The grandest of them all was Frank Inn, who had been an assistant to Lassie’s trainer, Rudd Weatherwax, of the Weatherwax family—trainers, too, of Toto and Old Yeller and Asta. (Many movie dogs were actually multiple dogs.) Inn’s mutt Higgins, discovered in Burbank, was sixteen when he came out of retirement, after six seasons on “Petticoat Junction,” to originate the role of Benji. Higgins’s daughter Benjean took over for several of the sequels, including “Oh! Heavenly Dog” (1980), starring Chevy Chase and Omar Sharif. Cujo, if you’re wondering, was at least four St. Bernards, a mechanical dog, and a stuntman in a dog suit.

3. The other Earths

earth-from-space Earth. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In an excerpt from her new book, astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger takes us inside the hunt for other habitable planets. 

(Nautilus, approx 11 mins reading time)

Borucki is also one of the nicest people you could ever know. We had met before, at a small astronomy conference where I presented my work on how to figure out if a planet could be habitable. But since the Kepler mission launched in 2009, he had constantly been surrounded by people, all curious for the latest news from Kepler, so I did not expect him to remember me. Surprisingly, when he saw me, he smiled and headed over. I remember thinking that maybe he wanted to know where I’d gotten the hard-earned coffee I was holding. I debated whether I could recommend it.

That cold day in Vienna with terrible coffee turned into one of the most exciting days of my life. Borucki told me he’d planned to find me at my talk the next day. During our serendipitous encounter, he shared an intriguing—and well-kept—secret that I really, really wanted to shout from the rooftops of this beautiful imperial city: The Kepler mission had found a new world that was just in the right spot around its star.

4. Invisible warfare

Liao Yiwu was jailed for writing poetry about what happened at Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989. Here, he writes about how he smuggled his writing out of prison. 

(The Guardian, approx 18 mins reading time)

The process of smuggling the first three volumes out of the prison was extremely complicated. In the winter of 1992, I was transferred to No 3 prison, where many political prisoners with a connection to the Tiananmen massacre were detained. I slept on a top bunk in a group cell. In the beginning, I wrote down some irrelevant random thoughts, which I let everyone pass around, but I had ulterior motives.

Originally, it was impossible for me to keep these secret manuscripts myself, as the cells were subject to random searches. But I knew a paramedic downstairs who had been locked up there since the start of “liberation” in the 1950s. He had been a reporter from the Nationalist party’s Saodangbao (“Mop-Up Daily”). As he had been detained for so long, the prison guards ignored him. He was well read, and everyone called him Old Man Yang. Every time I finished writing a fragment, I handed over the manuscript to him to hide.

5. ‘Veneer techs’

close-up-of-a-shade-guide-to-check-veneer-of-tooth-crown-or-implant-in-dental-laboratory Close-up of teeth shade guide. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

TikTok is full of advertising fake certification courses and unlicenced, so-called ‘veneer techs’ offering to perform cosmetic dentistry. Lindsay Gellman writes about the viral videos. 

(The Cut, approx 8 mins reading time)

“I went there to get a white perfect smile,” Ragin told me. “I had no idea it was in the back of a barbershop.” Still, she had already paid. A framed certificate on the wall reassured her somewhat, so she sat back and let Princess get to work. At first, Ragin liked the results. Princess told her not to eat for three hours, so she waited. Four hours into the drive home, Ragin stopped for some grits and eggs, and several veneers tumbled out. She called Princess, who, Ragin says, told her she would send a DIY kit to fix the missing ones. But within a couple of days, a dozen had fallen out. Ragin went to her local dentist, who removed the remaining ones, costing her around $1,300. Her dentist was relieved that the veneers had been in place for only a short time and that they hadn’t caused permanent damage. “You can’t let anybody play in your mouth,” Ragin says he told her.

6. My friend the chatbot

Jessica Lucas writes about how teenagers are confiding in chatbots about their problems, and explores how relying on AI for advice might be impacting them.  

(The Verge, approx 9 mins reading time)

Aaron is one of millions of young people, many of whom are teenagers, who make up the bulk of Character.AI’s user base. More than a million of them gather regularly online on platforms like Reddit to discuss their interactions with the chatbots, where competitions over who has racked up the most screen time are just as popular as posts about hating reality, finding it easier to speak to bots than to speak to real people, and even preferring chatbots over other human beings. Some users say they’ve logged 12 hours a day on Character.AI, and posts about addiction to the platform are common. “I’m not going to lie,” Aaron said. “I think I may be a little addicted to it.”

…AND A CLASSIC FROM THE ARCHIVES…

stockholm-1974-02-09the-swedish-pop-group-abba-from-left-benny-andersson-anni-frid-lyngstad-agnetha-faltskog-and-bjorn-ulvaeus-posing-after-winning-the-swedish-branch-of-the-eurovision-song-contest ABBA after winning the Swedish branch of the Eurovision Song Contest with their song Waterloo in 1974. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

It’s been 50 years since ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo. Here’s an interview with Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson from 2021 after they announced they were reuniting to make a new album and a virtual concert.

(The Guardian, approx 19 mins reading time)

You get the impression that Andersson and Ulvaeus might always have been like this. They seem baffled by the suggestion that fame on the scale Abba achieved in the 1970s might have brought with it a degree of pressure: the only time they felt stressed, they say, was when they realised they were a song short for an album due in two weeks, a problem they remedied by the simple expedient of writing Super Trouper in an evening. “No, I’d say no pressure,” Andersson says with a frown. “I think living in Sweden helped; being Swedish helped. No fuss here. People recognised us, they still do, everybody does, but they never bothered us – no hysteria, nothing like that. It’s cool. We’ve been able to work here.”

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