A look back at this day in film history
December 01
October 31, 1993
River's End

In a macabre twist, the 23-year-old actor River Phoenix died early on Halloween 1993 at 1:51 a.m. from a drug overdose at Los Angeles’ Viper Club. Phoenix had been there with friends on October 30, and was set to go on stage with Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Beforehand he made a detour to the men’s room where he snorted a line of Persian Brown, a form of meth mixed with various opiates. Within minutes, Phoenix started to feel sick, staggered out of the club, and passed out in convulsions on the sidewalk. Even though his brother called 911 immediately, paramedics on the scene could not revive him. At the time of his death, Phoenix was considered one of the most promising actors of his generation. Having grown up in a transient hippie family, he was discovered early on for his musical ability, but soon parlayed that into an acting career, starring in the 1985 space adventure Explorers at the age of 15 (with an equally unknown Ethan Hawke). Soon Phoenix was proving his youthful range in a series of features from the coming-of-age yarn Stand by Me to the spy thriller Little Nikita and finally to Gus Van Sant’s Shakespeare-inflected hustler drama My Own Private Idaho. Famous in life, Phoenix gained even more notoriety in death, as his drug overdose was held up as tragic reminder of celebrity drug culture gone horribly wrong. Viper Room owner Johnny Depp was so crushed by the event that he closed the club every Halloween up until he sold his share in 2004.

More Flashbacks
December 1, 1935
Woody Allen Born

In 1935, Nettie and Martin Konigsberg welcomed their new son Allen Stewart into the world. Second generation German Jewish emigrants, the family moved from the lower East Side to Brooklyn where Nettie worked as a bookkeeper and Martin as an engraver and waiter.

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December 1, 1983
Scarface Returns

It was nippy New York City winter night when such stars as Melanie Griffith, Raquel Welch, Cher, Lucille Ball, and Eddie Murphy came out for the premiere of Scarface. Dedicated to Ben Hecht and Howard Hawks, Brian De Palma’s film updated those two men’s 1932 movie about a megalomaniacal Chicago gangster (aka Al Capone) into a nightmarish spin on the American dream as a Cuban exile rises to take over the illegal drug trade in Miami. Producer Martin Bregman had imagined the remake in early 1980 as star vehicle for Al Pacino. Bergman hired Oliver Stone (who was himself dealing with a cocaine addiction at the time) to write the script. When De Palma read it, he dropped out of directing Flashdance to take over the production. He wanted to rewrite the rules of noir with this film. Instead of the dark, rain-soaked streets of early gangster films, De Palma shot the violence under the bright, unapologetic South Florida sunshine––although in truth the film production took place in Los Angeles. When it came out, the film was not the runaway hit that everyone had hoped for. Critics were lukewarm, and box office was respectable but not boffo. Overtime, however, the film became a phenomenon all its own. Adopted by Latino and African-American youth as the patron saint of crime, Scarface became an icon. His catchphrases, like “say ‘elllo to my little friend,” graced t-shirts, bumper stickers, tennis shoes, cups and posters. His story was reincarnated in video games, rap lyrics and a short-lived TV show. His spirit continues to speak to generation after generation of outsiders looking in on the American dream from the ghetto or beyond the border. As Ken Tucker, the author of Scarface Nation puts it, “Scarface absorbs ridicule and overexposure and just keeps on going."

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