General postsTuesday June 17, 2014
Breaking Away for a Bit
I'll be taking a break from the blog for a bit to recharge my batteries. Ciao, bellissima! See you on the other side.
James Gandolfini: 1961-2013
The video below has been making the rounds since the news came of James Gandolfini's death in Rome, Italy, yesterday, at the age of 51. Patricia and I watched a bit of it last night. One of my favorite parts, for obvious reasons, comes at 19:20:
Lipton: When you're choosing film projects what are the most important factors for you, Jim? What comes first?
Gandoflini: The writing the writing the writing the writing the writing the writing the writing.
Even better is Gandolfini on why Tony Soprano is an everyman:
Lipton: How did you see Tony in the beginning? What did you see in Tony that you could identify with, that you felt you could play?
Gandolfini: It says a lot about a lot of people. It's man's struggle. He doesn't have a religion, he doesn't believe in the government, he doesn't believe in anything except his code of honor, and his code of honor is all going to shit. So he has nothing left. He's got nothing left. And he's looking around. And it was that searching that I think a lot of America does half the time. You know. You can go buy things, you can do whatever, but it's that he has no center left. I really identified with that.
I remember that lost look. I also remember the small, malicious smile that implied he was about to do harm to someone and enjoy it. Scared the shit out of me.
It's fascinating how uncomfortable he is onstage as himself. At the same time, as much as to Lipton, he talks to the students in the audience, telling them what they need to do to make it worth it.
- The New York Times: Mr. Chase, in a statement, called Mr. Gandolfini “one of the greatest actors of this or any time,” and said, “A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes.” He added: “I remember telling him many times: ‘You don’t get it. You’re like Mozart.’ There would be silence at the other end of the phone.”
- Jeffrey Wells: Gandolfini knew from anger. As one who has fed at the trough of my own anger for decades, I don’t believe he ever lost that basic fuel for his Tony arias. But he was mainly a sensitive X-factor guy, I felt. Rivers of sadness and aloneness within. He spoke with such elegance ... and seemed so perceptive and gentle and (from what I’ve been told by friends and colleagues) so gracious and kind.
- David Remnick: He played within a certain range. Like Jackie Gleason, he’ll be remembered for a particular role, and a particular kind of role, but there is no underestimating his devotion to the part of a lifetime that was given to him. In the dozens of hours he had on the screen, he made Tony Soprano—lovable, repulsive, cunning, ignorant, brutal—more ruthlessly alive than any character we’ve ever encountered in television.
Feel free to add links and thoughts below.
Movie Review: Not Fade Away (2012)
There’s an early scene in “Not Fade Away,” written and directed by David Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos,” which encapsulates much of what we are about to see.
It begins with three teenagers on a summer night in 1964 hanging behind a curbside sewer grating and bemoaning their existence in general and lack of girls in particular. The smallest one, Douglas (John Magaro), says the following:
Nothing has ever worked for me. I got this skinny physique. I got this skuzzy complexion.
CUT TO: The Rolling Stones singing “I Just Want to Make Love to You” on Hollywood Palace.
Great transition. The Stones provide Doug with an answer not only on how to get girls, with his skinny physique and skuzzy complexion, but what to do with his life. He can become a musician. He can join a band. He can become … a rock star.
More, Chase keeps the camera rolling, as it were, so we see the cultural divide the music and the hair engender. Doug’s father, Pat (James Gandolfini), watching the show with his bowl of ice cream after a day of work, looks positively disgusted by the Stones, and his reaction is echoed by, of all people, the host of Hollywood Palace, Dean Martin, who says, “Rolling Stones! Aren’t they great?” and then rolls his eyes to laughter from the crowd. He adds:
They’re going to leave right after the show for London. They’re going to challenge the Beatles to a hair pulling contest.
More laughter from the crowd and a conspiratorial smile from Pat. But their world is about to change.
“Not Fade Away,” which became the Stones’ first hit stateside, is about a band, Doug’s, that not only faded away but barely formed in the first place. It’s a slice of life about the haphazard path life can take. It’s universal in this regard, but, because it’s culled from Chase’s past, it’s specific to place (New Jersey) and time: that moment when everything the greatest generation strived for was upended by their children, the boomer generation, for whom it was striven, and who had in them an unreal idealism and an overwhelming sense of privilege.
It starts out about a girl, Grace Dietz (Bella Heathcote, looking very Heather Graham circa 1998), who is always in Doug’s sites but out of his reach, not to mention out of his league. But time is on his side. Doug is asked to join the band of his friend, Gene (Jack Huston), who has a bit of a following, as its drummer; then he has to take over lead vocals when Gene, smoking pot, swallows a roach. Doug does well. In fact, he does better than Gene. A source of future conflict. His hair grows out and frizzes, he starts wearing Cuban-heel boots, he begins to look more and more like “Don’t Look Back”-era Bob Dylan. And he gets Grace.
Then he blows it, of course. She has a past? She sucked whose what? He gets into fights with his father, while his mother, Antoinette (Molly Price), an early version of Livia Soprano, is forever crossing herself. The Vietnam War is brought up, and each side takes the most inane position. It’s ill-informed pragmatism vs. lofty idealism. Is that part of the problem with the movie? We get inanity from both sides of the generation gap. Meanwhile, the best version of both sides is represented by the same family: Doug and his father. Everyone else can go to hell.
Pat is a sympathetic figure here: hair-trigger temper, sure, but hard-working, suffering cancer in silence, and sticking by his crazy wife. Doug takes the best of his father, his work ethic, and tries to push the band toward success; but his mates already have an idea of what they are and what they will be. Gene keeps wanting to do covers because that’s what “his fans” like, but he says it at his day job doing itinerant construction. Meanwhile, Wells (Will Brill) has the stages of the band’s success already worked out in his mind. He reminds me of members of the band Visiting Day from a first-season episode of “The Sopranos,” who talk about which of their lousy songs will be their first hit and which will be the second. They, and he, are about to go nowhere but in their minds.
As a slice of life, a slice of culture, and as cinematic memoir, “Not Fade Away” reminds me of a not-quite-as-resonant version of Olivier Assayas’ “Apres Mai.” Assayas’ counterpart, Gilles (Clément Métayer), goes from would-be revolutionary and into film production, while Chase’s pursues rock ‘n’ roll dreams until he cuts out for California and film school. The movie is about why the first dream doesn’t happen from the perspective of the second dream, which happened.
It’s a good movie, evocative, with great music and production values. Why doesn’t it quite work? Do we get too much of Grace’s crazy sister, Joy, and their central-casting square and conservative parents (Christopher McDonald in plaid golf pants)? The bookending narration, provided by Doug’s sister Evelyn (Meg Guzulescu), feels unnecessary, too, and her final ‘60s-era dance, in the middle of the Sunset Strip, while fun, doesn’t exactly illuminate. Maybe we needed a greater focus on Doug and Pat. There are moments when Pat looks at his son, sprouting hair like a chia pet, and has no idea who he is. We feel the same.
The Valentine's Day Posts
- It's a Twitter meme right now: #CandyHeartRejects. I came up with my own last year: the less-romantic movie-themed candy hearts. For the rest of us.
- Dramatically speaking, the point of the story isn't to bring the lovers together but to keep them apart. We need to stretch this out to two hours, after all. Or two seasons. Or 10. If the couple gets together? Nobody cares. So find some way to keep them apart. Which means if you're alone on V Day, you're the point of the story.
- A poem from Leigh Hunt.
- Have you gone to Google's Valentine's Day Images page? Prepare to be blinded by red and crap.
- Seven years ago, for MSNBC, I wrote a piece sorting Hollywood kisses into several categories: the desperate kiss, in the rain, the manhandle, the woman takes charge, and the wow kiss. It's still not bad. Not wow but not bad.
- ABC News picked up on this piece a few years ago but ... Well, here. With a little Elvis Costello thrown in.
- For all the marshmallow valentines out there:
Sorry for the denture smell.
The final sunset of 2012 over Puget Sound, as viewed from Evan's office in lower Queen Anne. I'd say “Auf wiedersehen” to the year but I've just seen "Django Unchained' and know better.