Live Review: Acting Legend Al Pacino at DPAC 5/20/11

The poster bill for Al Pacino: A Once in a Lifetime Event
Al Pacino: A Once in a Lifetime Event

The poster bill for Al Pacino: A Once in a Lifetime Event
Al Pacino: A Once in a Lifetime Event

I was intrigued, and maybe a little baffled, about the prospect of “An Evening With Al Pacino.” I’ve been a fan for decades, and I love the venue (my wife and I have gone to the Durham Performing Arts Center many times, starting with their very first event – B.B. King in 2008), but exactly what kind of a performance would this be?

The evening, dubbed “a once in a lifetime event,” began with NYU Film Professor Richard Brown reading from a list of Pacino’s lengthy credits. Many titles garnered loud applause, but when he mentioned “Scarface” the place erupted. “That’s always an audience favorite,” Brown commented.

Then a montage of Pacino’s work showcasing iconic imagery from his cinematic canon  including moments from the “Godfather” films (unsurprisingly only from the first 2), “Serpico”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, and, of course, “Scarface” to footage of his stage-work, decorated by interview sound-bites was shown on the large screen on stage.

It was a well done mixture of highlights, but it felt a bit unnecessary as everybody who shelled out for the expensive seats (tickets started at $75) would surely already be well familiar with the man’s body of work.

No matter, the intro did the trick and soon after Pacino was bathing in a standing ovation. Dressed in black, wearing his customary scarf with his disheveled hair behind a headband, Pacino sat down with moderator Brown for an Inside the Actor’s Studio-style interview, mostly about the difference between acting for stage and screen.

Brown began by asking “I remember you saying more than once, that for you, home is the theater. But that the paradox is that the theater is dangerous.”

Pacino joked “It’s dangerous right now, let me tell you.”

After laughter from the audience, he continued: “It’s alive – anything can happen. It’s a different environment, and it does something different to your physiology.

It just changes you because of that very reason that you don’t know what’s coming next. You can forget your lines for one thing, but in a movie they can say ‘come on back Al, let’s do it over again.’ In the theater you just sort of have to float and figure out a way, except if you lose your lines in Shakespeare. Then there’s no way to go back!”

Brown asked if the craft of acting changes fundamentally from stage to screen.

Pacino replied: “Yeah, it does change. A film is pretty much the frame. You’re acting for camera, you’re not acting for live people. Your whole presentation changes. There’s no need to project because you can talk in a whisper and everybody will hear you – on a big screen. But in a theater you have to project.

Also in the theater you have weeks or months of rehearsal. You do a scene, but the good thing about the theater is you’re gonna back the next night. You can learn from the thing you did before. I find I can explore more.”

Pacino went on to tell a few priceless anecdotes, one fairly well known about how the “Attica” scene in “Dog Day Afternoon” came about, and another I hadn’t heard before about dealing with a lighting problem when filming “Godfather: Part II.”

“That’s one of the real beauties of movies,” Pacino said. “You can do that sort of thing in a movie. If it clicks – if it doesn’t click then it’s not in the movie, but if it clicks it’s a spontaneous moment that can only happen in film. You know, it happens now in reality TV.”

To the delight of the audience he also recounted the origin story of his “Hoo-ah!” catchphrase from “Scent of a Woman.”

Pacino excitedly offered to show some bits of films he had made throughout the years: “I do this thing where I make my own moving pictures that never see the light of day. Some of them do, some of them don’t.”

A few scenes from his film entitled “Local Stigmatic” were shown, as well as a trailer-type presentation for his third film as director, “Wilde Salome,” which looks to be a “Looking For Richard” style blend of documentary and drama.

Pacino seemed to delight in announcing that he was going to have a “large cameo” in an Adam Sandler movie at the end of the year, and that he just saw the Justin Beiber live concert documentary (“Never Say Never”) and thought it was fun. However he did quip “I saw it on the plane, sometimes you’re a little forgiving on a plane.”

My view of the stage at DPAC on Friday night for "An Evening With Al Pacino"
The stage last Friday evening for "Al Pacino: A Once in a Lifetime Event"

Then it was time for the Q & A portion of the program. Pacino took questions about his roles as Roy Cohn in “Angels in America”, Big Boy Caprice in “Dick Tracy”, and most importantly to film fans like myself whether the rumors are true that he may appear with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” in 2012.

“They’re trying to put that together,” is all Pacino said about that highly anticipated project.

Pacino used the last third of the evening to recite some poetry (including e.e. cummings’ “Somewhere I have never travelled”), act out some David Mamet (an excerpt from “American Buffalo”), and because he’s apparently always has Oscar Wilde on his mind, a bit of “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” – his favorite work by the famous Irish writer.

Pacino may have rambled at times, but he was never less than fascinating. Sure, it was an evening of indulgence, but few movie stars, even ones with comparable backgrounds in theater, could’ve pulled it off as charmingly.

The man’s love for the craft of acting came out lovingly in every utterance. Reflecting on how he waxed on unpretentiously about how the skill was the ultimate “outlet to speak; to be able to say to the world at large that this is exactly how I feel,” I doubt anybody in attendance would deny that for the nearly 2 hours that he took the stage at DPAC that he did just that.

By Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson is a Raleigh based writer whose work has appeared in the Indpendent, Chapel Hill News, and has been featured many times on the IMDb Hit List. Daniel writes prolifically about the world of pop culture mainly focusing on film.