28 June 2013

I Love The Sopranos

  We had been re-watching The Sopranos from the beginning of the series and were well into the final season when the news came out that James Gandolfini had died. I think there was a tremendous collective deep breath of grief from everyone and everywhere. A tragedy that he died so young and I think there was a depth of feeling there that extended beyond the grief I felt for other entertainers. For some reason his body of work seems elevated. I think he was a true artist and one of the great actors.
  There is an old adage that acting happens behind the eyes, and there was so much going on behind those eyes it was always riveting and entertaining. What makes it surprising is that you love the character, while at the same time hating and despising Tony Soprano. Is there a more lovable villain than Tony Soprano?
  When I watched the series fresh again, I really appreciated it more deeply. It is quite simply astounding and inspirational. The entire cast is so phenomenal. One of my favorite all time performances was the portrayal of Richie Aprile by David Proval. My god. Every second that man was on screen there was a palpable psychotic tension in the room. He radiated volatile violence. I felt like I was walking on egg shells just watching him, waiting for him to snap. The way Proval was able to keep that simmering mad anger boiling away, again, behind the eyes, was just an electrifying piece of acting to behold.
  So many great performances. I think at drama schools and film schools alike, they should just sit the classes down and play this series. Janice Soprano played by Aida Turturro, an absolute tour de force. Sensational and completely realized, her character is exactly what Tony's little sister would have grown up to be. This deep psychological roundedness to the characters draws you into the world. It is often mentioned that books always deliver more of an emotional journey then film or T.V, but here I think we witnessed a turning point in the medium, what critics like to call television's "game changer", because it elevated television to a level of artistry and story telling that like a good book, can bring you into a whole new world, captivate you, take you on a journey that when it ends, there is a sense of loss because what you experienced touched on universal truths and feelings at the core of this human condition. It was a double blow when we finished the series, knowing that it was over but that also a great artist had died. I felt at a bit of a loss. I mean, where do you go for that kind of storytelling? You kind of wonder around in a state of disappointment, a bit lost, wishing that somehow you could wipe your memory and re-live the joy of watching it all over again afresh.
  There were moments of brutality that with me waning 35 year old levels of testosterone I could not handle. Ralph Cifaretto beating the young stripper to death I could not watch. It left me a bit hollow and depressed, but The Sopranos never took its foot off the pedal on its heroic depiction of the harsh reality of that timeless theme: the human beings inhumanity unto itself.
  What better Mafia series is there? For my money nothing touches The Sopranos. Martin Scorsese? Come on, what would you rather take on a desert Island if you had a choice, Scorsese's entertaining yet often a little heavy handed fare, or our Sopranos? Like I said, I am betting on The Sopranos coming out on top as the critics of tomorrow and the far off future sift through our cultural offerings. It is Shakespearean in its power and artistry.
  Every shot, every moment captured with superlative camera work. A game changer? Hell yes, a monumental cultural shift in the understanding that this medium had ability, this small screen had the chutzpah to step into the shoes of the heretofore much lauded film industry, so long thought of as the superior visual art form. The Soprano's put a bullet square in the head of those critics that sneered at television with the assumption that it would never be capable of high art. 
  I loved the nuances of Tony Soprano and how as the story unfolded, we as an audience, crossed our fingers that their might just be a little humanity within him. But as the story unfolds, we see that the glimpses of what we once saw as the potential for an empathic soul, dissolve in the evil wrought on Tony's victims. When Jackie Aprile is in dire need of Tony's powerful help, he deftly sidesteps the responsibility and in so doing takes a bit of the blood splatter on his apparently clean hands. I remember a chap in New York extolling the emotional impact of the death of Adriana. I judged him. He sounded like I was enthusiastically re-hashing something he had read. Whatever the case he was right; it was heartbreaking when Adriana died. I remember too, the soul shock of Tony killing Chris. Chris, again a sociopath but an engrossing character you can't help but root for in his adventures into the film business and his gritty, angry life. As Tony holds his nose tight and he gargles blood, we understand, as Melfi does, that this is a man beyond help. Beyond help yes but as a study of this variation on the human species, absolutely spellbinding. This sociopath is fascinating to us, because he is one of us and they are among us. A horror story made real with his connection with family and in the real world. 
  The Soprano's is inspirational. It is a treasure and may Gandolfini rest in peace. I am so very grateful for his gift. This incredible body of work. It was saddening listening to snippets of what a great guy he was offscreen. The life of the celebrity did not sit well with him. He was self-less in his promotion of others and cast members could here his work ethic as he worked up his scenes in his trailer. He took his craft to its pinnacle. He was a story teller of genius and taken too soon. Yeah, a sad loss but his legacy is undeniable. Still, the sadness resonates and will for a little while. You just can't get great work like that out of your head, it rumbles in your subconscious just like a great novel or a piece of music.