‘So­pra­nos’ cre­ator goes to big­ger screen

Hard to move past the jug­ger­naut TV show, Chase says.

Austin American-Statesman - - TV TONIGHT - By Jake Coyle

NEW YORK — Af­ter “The So­pra­nos” went black, David Chase’s next move was never in ques­tion: He would make a movie.

In all Chase’s time toil­ing as a writer in tele­vi­sion be­fore “The So­pra­nos” — decades rang­ing from “The Rock­ford Files” to “North­ern Ex­po­sure” — the big screen had beck­oned. It reached back to his days as a teenager tak­ing stills of “8 ½” and “Dr. Strangelove” (clear touch­stones, still: one, Ital­ian and sur­real; the other, darkly comic).

Af­ter his first stab at writ­ing a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller went beg­ging, he turned to an idea of his since the ’80s, one he oc­ca­sion­ally kicked around in the “So­pra­nos” writ­ers room.

“I love rock ‘n’ roll so much that I really wanted to make a movie about the mu­sic, not about the per­son­al­i­ties in­volved, not about the ups and downs or the rise and fall of it,” says Chase. “I didn’t want to do a biopic. If it was go­ing to be a biopic, I wanted to do a biopic about no­bod­ies — which is what it kind of is.”

“Not Fade Away,” which Para­mount Pic­tures will open in lim­ited re­lease Fri­day, is Chase’s first project since “The So­pra­nos” re­made Amer­i­can pop cul­ture and, among other things, for­ever changed our re­la­tion­ship to Jour­ney. A coming-of-age tale set amid the gen­er­a­tional tu­mult of the ’60s, it’s the de­but of the most promis­ing 67-year-old film­maker to come along in some time.

In a re­cent in­ter­view at Para­mount’s New York of­fices, Chase’s steady de­meanor is be­lied by a ro­man­ti­cism that comes through in his work and his frank­ness. Though many view­ers rev­eled in the week-toweek whack­ing of “The So­pra­nos,” Chase sum­ma­rizes the show (and its in­fa­mous end­ing) as about the fleet­ing mo­ments of ten­der­ness in an oth­er­wise cold world.

“All I wanted to do was present the idea of how short life is and how pre­cious it is,” he says. “The only way I felt I could do that was to rip it away.”

Fans of “The So­pra­nos” will be pleased to find that “Not Fade Away,” while a clear de­par­ture, bears Chase’s dis­tinc­tive sto­ry­telling: its swirl of fam­ily dy­nam­ics, pop cul­ture and psychology. And New Jersey: The film is set in the sub­urbs of the state Chase grew up in and where “The So­pra­nos” made its home.

It’s a slightly au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal story about a drum­mer (new­comer John Ma­garo) in a garage band with out­sized am­bi­tions of be­com­ing the next Rolling Stones. Much of the drama comes in the strife be­tween an afro-ed son and his work­ing class fam­ily ( James Gan­dolfini, who of course played Tony So­prano, is the dis­ap­prov­ing fa­ther).

Un­like many ’60s pe­riod films, the decade’s his­tor­i­cal events are a back­drop, not the fore- ground.

Steve Van Zandt, an­other “So­pra­nos” veteran who served as a pro­ducer and mu­si­cal su­per­vi­sor on “Not Fade Away,” calls that ap­proach “ex­tremely ac­cu­rate.” The E Street Band gui­tarist took the young ac­tors of the film through a vir­tual rock ‘n’ roll boot camp, guid­ing them to sound like a gen­uine garage band.

“Yeah there was the civil rights thing go­ing on; there was the women’s rights thing go­ing on; there was this thing called Viet­nam go­ing on,” says Van Zandt. “Cities were burn­ing to the ground. And we were like: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just get me to band re­hearsal and let’s fig­ure out the chords to this new Yard-birds song.’”

Whereas “The So­pra­nos” or­bited around the mother-son re­la­tion­ship of Tony and his mother, “Not Fade Away” is cen­tered on the fa­ther and son.

“My mother had very lit­tle ca­pa­bil­ity for com­pas­sion or em­pa­thy,” says Chase. “My fa­ther had that, but he was from his gen­er­a­tion. He was a tough guy.”

Chase ea­gerly fled his par­ents when he, at 22, moved to Cal­i­for­nia with his high-school sweet­heart and fu­ture wife, Denise, to at­tend film school. Af­ter­ward, he wrote scripts on spec and for stu­dio as­sign­ments with Columbia and Uni­ver­sal while work­ing in TV. He got close to hav­ing one made by Ri­d­ley Scott and an­other with Michael Mann.

“TV was con­sid­ered pretty lame at that time,” he says. “It wasn’t what I wanted. I knew there was some­thing bet­ter. I liked movies bet­ter, but I just couldn’t crack it.”

Re­unit­ing with Chase, Gan­dolfini says, was nat­u­ral be­cause of their short­hand to­gether.

“It was good to work to­gether again af­ter ‘The So­pra­nos’ be­cause ‘The So­pra­nos’ was such a big, huge thing and it was nice to just get back to shoot­ing a film some­where with no­body around,” says Gan­dolfini. “It was kind of just go­ing back to work.”

Get­ting over the sen­sa­tion of “The So­pra­nos” was a chal­lenge for Chase, who de­com­pressed for a year in Europe af­ter­ward. The pop cul­ture phe­nom­e­non, which changed the as­pi­ra­tions of tele­vi­sion, ri­valed the rev­o­lu­tion­ary im­pact of the mu­sic chron­i­cled in “Not Fade Away.”

“It was harder to come down from that than I thought it would be,” Chase says. “It be­came harder and harder. Once I had time and once I had Wi-Fi, I could look up all the things peo­ple said about it. So I spent some time do­ing that. I had never done it be­fore: both the good and the bad. It was a toxic ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Chase quit his search­ing, but found he missed the so­cial life of the show, the ev­ery­day prob­lem-solv­ing. More than any­thing, he missed sound­track­ing the show — mar­ry­ing tracks like John Cooper Clarke’s “Ev­i­dently Chicken town” or the Stones’ “Moon­light Mile” to the im­ages. “Not Fade Away” is a di­rect out­growth of that.

“It was all about the mu­sic, really,” says Chase.

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