Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.
― Fyodor Dostoevsky

 

 

 

He was a genius. Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that. He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes. 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. For Deborah and Michael and Lilliana this is crushing. And it’s bad for the rest of the world. He wasn’t easy sometimes. But he was my partner, he was my brother in ways I can’t explain and never will be able to explain.”
The Sopranos creator, David Chase

 

Iconic actor James Gandolfini passed away on Wednesday while in Italy, he was there to attend the 59th Taormina Film Festival in Sicily. It comes as a shocker as he was just 51 years old at the time; it was said he had died of a sudden heart attack.

The talented, robust actor was as popular as he was lauded and well-respected by his fellow actors. Gandolfini displayed an impressive range as he continually radiated authenticity and realism in whatever he was in. He could be volatile or gentle. He could be ferocious or funny.

We were introduced to him, in 1993, when the memorable Gandolfini broke out as the psychotic mob hitman, Virgil, in True Romance. His intense scene with hooker, Alabama (Patricia Arquette), was brutal and riveting. Gandolfini had a penchant for standing out in each film he graced as he seemed to lose himself in each role, big or small. He had a long and consistent career until he landed the role which would make him an episodic television legend. That part was of the explosive New Jersey mobster and family man, Tony Soprano. Playing the Italian gangster patriarch on the hallmark HBO show, The Sopranos, earned him three Emmy awards during the show’s six seasons.

If we created a Mount Rushmore for Contemporary Television Characters, that mountain scape would contain the visages of Tony Soprano, Walter White (Bryan Cranston), Donald Draper (Jon Hamm) and Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler).

James Gandolfini is survived by his wife Deborah Lin, their baby daughter and his teenage son. Our condolences go out to his family, friends and fans. The screen goes black for Tony Soprano as he cruises off in the Stugots II (or rides into the sunset on Pie-O-My).

@teemunny

 

Gandolfini and The Sopranos pretty much inspired me to blog about pop culture. Here’s one of my first posts and it happens to be about the show. It was titled Jersey Sure:

The-Sopranos

So I’m revisiting The Sopranos, I’m currently on the fifth season. I ended up shotgunning the first four seasons in the span of two weeks. It’s draining, watching more than fifty episodes of mafia goons, engaging in their mob antics, in that shortened span of time. I know, first world problems, woe is me. Seriously though, even if you have the leisure time, I cannot recommend engaging in this extended marathon. It’s a show that’s heavy, loud, violent, stressful and depressing. It was starting to affect my psyche and dreams at night.

Along the way, I discovered my favorite scene of the series, probably one of funniest sequences of the show’s history. Fifth season, fifth episode.

AJ, the spoiled, testy, ill-tempered and unruly teen has been living with his dad. The honeymoon with the “Boy’s Club” soon ends when they eventually, as expected, become fed up with each other. To compound things, because of earlier events that happen in the episode, Tony (in fear of possible retribution and retaliation) sends AJ back to his mother’s. Back to HIS house, to keep his son out of harm’s way.

The actual scene takes place in the entry of Manor di Soprano.

In this throwaway moment, at the epoch of the separation between husband and wife, Tony has hand delivered the prodigal son with a large pizza in tow. As expected, Carmela is not happy, the fireworks and ballbusting by her commence immediately. Her anger, contempt and disdain are completely reasonable. Not only does she have to see his face in, basically, what is now her house; he has put their son in danger; and has put his son in danger BECAUSE of his rumored indiscretion (earlier events in episode). Not to mention, his habitual adulterous philandering ways with his collection of goomars. Tony’s reply is the usual scowl,  followed by the clockwork response of the choleric eff-you to her. Carmela takes the pizza box (I imagine it was an attempt as a small peace offering for the night, wherein, he cluelessly and naively envisioned that it would be dinner that the “trio” would enjoy together. For old time’s sake, in his former kitchen.) and drops it flatly on the ground at Tony’s feet. She stops short of dropkicking it.

The first layer of comedy: the fact that Carmela routinely undresses him and hands him his balls. This stack-blowing lion. This alpha male. This volatile boss of the New Jersey DiMeo crime family. This overgrown brut. Carmela is the only one who will continually stand up to Tony Soprano and honestly call him out on his bullshit. It’s hilarious, yet it’s a major core element of the show’s brilliance. David Chase and his writers, without hyperbole, are geniuses (see Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner). It’s a simple, yet entirely interesting pitch. Chronicle a mob boss in his everyday life, from his family to the business side of things. The entertainment and complexity ensues when it is impossible to separate and it becomes a dirty, messy and delightfully sticky mess. How does/will a sociopath deal with the human condition? How do you deal with a nagging wife and spoiled kids at night after a long day of wacking your childhood friend that you found out was an informant?

Its success also comes from riding that fine line by the principle characters not becoming Jersey goombah caricatures/stereotypes that are in a Honeymooners episode. You can partly chalk it up to authentic acting.

Back to my classic scene. So Carm’ storms off, Tony is left standing there, freshly castrated, and angry with this look of, “Well, I never! Why I oughta…!” But he doesn’t do anything, it’s his turn to blast off in a huff. He makes it past the first set of doors where he pauses for a beat. You can read his silhouette through the beveled murky glass of the first set of foyer doors and you can almost read his mind, “Fuck it, I’m taking back MY pie!”

So he does. He turns around and crawls back in. Tony, the crimeboss with this swollen sense of pride, bends over, picks up the pie and scampers away with his tail between his legs. The bow on top of the sequence is how he awkwardly maneuvers through the last set of doors with the cumbersome pizza box. It’s hysterical and a piece of gorgeously subtle, physical comedy.

I’m curious as to how much fun they had filming and coming up with this scene. I’d like to imagine that they got it on the first take. OR that it took forty takes because they were cracking up the whole time and that there’s a blooper reel that exists somewhere out there.

Fifth season, fifth episode, 37:00 mark. Watch it for yourself. Obviously, my written recap won’t do the mis en scène and the comedic timing justice.  It’s ALL about the setup and timing. I’m possibly overselling at this point, but it’s comedy.

Check out this gentleman’s extensive and detailed analysis of the controversial series finale. It is intricate, rigorous, impressive and convincing. You’ll think thrice about the episode and realize that David Chase is a very clever and deliberate man.

 

LINKS:

 

 

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