Feuilleton about the heroes of “The Sopranos” series. In the 9th article, a story of the creator of this series, adamant, lucid, brilliant revolutionary – David Chase. Uncompromisingness, No Romanticizing, Terry Winter.
In all the previous articles, except for “James Gandolfini”, at least in some paragraphs another name and surname arementioned – David Chase. Not accidentally. The creator of this series, is a visionary, a genius, a man who did not want to compromise even with a giant like HBO. It is proof of how much in life, in order to succeed, you have to be brave and uncompromising, or as Kanye West said, “sometimes you have to be loud so that others can hear you”. Loud, if not revolutionary.
The Italian American Working Class of New York and Jersey. Angry, dissatisfied, and undervalued. New Yorker Chase, more precisely DeCesare (born in Mount Vernon) raised in Clifton and North Caldwell wanted to “just” create a show that he would watch himself, a show that his friends would respect. A series that had not been seen on television before. Slow action, accent on the language used by the actors to communicate, the believability of the dialogue, comedy, and drama.
“There Wouldn’t be The Sopranos if it weren’t for Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”David Chase
The idea of being a screenwriter was completely off the radar. The film machinery discourages most creatives in the film industry at the beginning. The majority of pilot episodes never see the light of production, and even if they do, most of the material is not purchased later. The idea that you will be “on air” is something that is ridiculous to even think about.
At that time, no series was a hit on cable, and the only one that partially was, was the series Oz,
David wanted to escape from the system of large networks, which in the end, directly or subtly, take away from you all the segments that were dearest to you in the creation. These are the boxes in which the superiors want to place you in an educational manner, not wanting to support you and take risks. Ignorance, fear, narrow-mindedness.
He didn’t like anything on television at that time, everything was predictable, usual. Even if he had wanted inspiration for The Sopranos, he couldn’t have found it through the small screen. He has always wondered why big networks don’t set aside, say, 5% of their budget for something called “research and development”, for projects that no one believes in and which are strange to most.
It was exactly one such project that he managed to get through to HBO (after being turned down by FOX), without giving away even a part of his soul. What a victory! From the beginning he had autonomy in HBO, there was an incident on one occasion only, when Tony committed his first murder, in Maine, in the episode College. Panic ensued in production, and David Chase just told them to mind their own business.
I mean, we’re talking about David Chase, a man without whose approval no one, absolutely no one, could get the role. And when they became globally successful, there was no one who didn’t inquire about the role. One of the most persistent, the brilliant Michael Madsen, did not get the role because of a relapse of his Chicago accent. There is no compromise, no gray area, everything is black or white in his world.
Through details, he portrayed the characters and communicated with the audience. And many details were by no means accidental in a story whose main source is imagination.
His cousin Joe was in the mafia, he’s no longer alive. He grew up watching his Cadillacs, and on one occasion the cops came to pick him up at three in the afternoon while his children were coming home from school. Yes, we can all draw a parallel now, when Tony gets arrested and Meadow walks in with her friends to celebrate her graduation.
Uncle Tommy, his father’s brother was also in the mafia, as he found out years later.
Satriales is the surname of his cousin Teresa, while the surname Bucco, Melfi (the character is based on the therapist Lorraine he went to, whose husband wrote Gun Crazy) also came from his family friends. An entire episode is dedicated to the family story of his parents, and to this day, we don’t know which one is it.
The scenes where Tony drinks milk, and the meatballs on the table, are all memories from his childhood. Chase had panic attacks as a child and was diagnosed with clinical depression, I just still don’t know if he was the one with the varsity athlete saga and undersized hands.
Chase brought together a family, not the cast. He adored Corrado Soprano, who was his favorite character. And with all of them he had some kind of connection, created sooner or later. He and Michael Imperioli were born in the same hospital – Mount Vernon.
Due to his fascination with Junior, it is not surprising that one of his two favorite scenes is the one with Dominic Chianese when he is hit by the microphone on the way out of the courtroom, where he falls on the stairs.
I think that the difference between The Sopranos and the shows that came before it was that it was really personal. There had been a lot of dramas, a lot of really good ones, a lot of really bad ones, but they were always franchise shows about cops, or doctors, or lawyers. They weren’t about the writer himself.David Chase
The second one is the no less legendary scene in which Bobby “Bacala” creates a “symbiosis of Nostradamus and the bell ringer of Notre Dame” at dinner with Tony. But don’t let that fool you, Chase only watched three episodes, and he liked the ones the audience liked the least.
He never romanticized the mafia. He always subtly or brutally directly drew attention to the fact that these were sociopaths, egoists, and bullies. When Tracy is killed in front of Bada Bing, Silvio yells “Get a sheet, Chrissy. Cover that up.” He says it, not her. The violence is brutal, but the small details are even more gruesome. Brilliant writing.
When Moltisanti says “Dysentery in the ranks”, referring to dissent, it is a meaningful representation of the criminals’ lack of education. The scene where Patsy Parisi and Burt Gervasi try to extort money from a fast-food chain is simply brilliant. Many people miss the old stores for nostalgic reasons, perhaps because they used to be small business owners. No, these guys miss them because they can no longer extort money!
He had no sacred cows, he showed all the hypocrisy of society and the church. It is no coincidence that on a couple of occasions the church was the only one who managed to outwit the racketeers.
After all, the end itself is like that. Tony’s empire was decimated, it really didn’t matter anymore if he survived that dinner or not… he was done, with the team in ruins, with the prosecution hanging over his head (with Carl as a witness). It was over. The former commotion in front of Satriales’ butcher shop disappeared, they left one by one, and in the end, it was just him, Polly, and the cat. Sadness and loneliness. “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens right?
Jimmy had a problem with authority figures, like Chase. There’s Jimmy in David, and vice versa, just as much.
The first one found peace only after the show was over, and a certain amount of time had passed, and that was something Chase never understood, because why did he choose acting in the first place then? And fame is inevitable there, irresistible to some, unbearable to others.
Imperioli and Gandolfini were at a similar level of popularity and recognition when filming, but The Sopranos took it to heights where there were no clouds at all. After the first season, David Chase went to France for two months, not expecting to continue filming. No one recognized him. And during the second season, they couldn’t get out of the trailer.
On the set near the end of the fifth season, Chase, Van Zandt, and Gandolfini, who was depressed because of the death of an acquaintance, were filming. The script read: “Tony opens the refrigerator door, closes it, and begins to speak.” And the cameras rolled, he opened the refrigerator door and slammed it so hard that it opened again. He kept pounding them, they were opening, until they fell apart.
Steven Van Zandt looked at the refrigerator confused, with his recognizable protruding lips, and tried to understand, first as Silvio, that Tony broke his door, and then as Steve, the actor, how to do the scene with the refrigerator door open, it just doesn’t work. They tried to stick the door with tapes and put them back together in different ways. In the end, the epilogue was the cancellation of the set.
Gandolfini gritted out, “This role…the places it takes me, the things I have to do, it’s so dark.” Chase asked him “did I tell you to destroy the fridge, did it say somewhere in the script that Tony destroys the fridge? No”?
Another memory completely took over them and brought them together, possibly even at the very beginning, during the pilot episode. They filmed in the unbearable heat and humidity of New Jersey. Jimmy was sitting on an aluminum beach chair, his pants pulled up to his knees, black socks and black shoes, with a wet handkerchief on his head. Chase looked at him and said, “Well, that’s not really a cool view.”
David was filled with love and knew that he was in the right place, and he had not had the opportunity to see a similar sight since the time of his father, grandfather, Italian uncles – workers, and bricklayers in that same hot Jersey sun. Gandolfini’s father worked with concrete. Chase was never able to figure out the Italian’s bond with cement, but he was proud of the core of that legacy, as well as his relationship with the late great. A measure of a relationship is not its perfection, because it is always apparent and false, perfect simply does not exist.
It would be unfair to keep quiet that Chase was not alone in the creation of this monumental series. He did write the most episodes (30), but Terry Winter (25), Robin Green (22), and Adam Coulter (12) helped him wholeheartedly.
I would single out Terry Winter, who grew up in Brooklyn, in the working class, worked in the butcher shop “Meat Market Castellano & Sons” of mobster Paul Castellano, and as a runner boy at card games under Roy DiMeo’s auspices. That was his area and he was a witness to the first outlines of criminal osmosis.
He leaves the deli to apply to NYU. How does one enroll in a prestigious university if he does not deserve it with his previous studies? By imagination. He chooses medieval religion, and since literally, no one wanted to enroll, there was no entrance exam.
He finishes law school (and the NY bar exam), and gets a job at a serious firm in Manhattan, when he realizes that this isn’t it, he avoids meetings and goes to the library and the cinema. Decides – screenwriter, writer. He leaves New York and goes to LA without ever being west of Chicago before. His friends told him he was crazy, giving him a maximum of six months to return.
The defeat was not an option. He pursued various jobs and lied that he graduated from law school because he was overqualified. If he had died in a traffic accident, no one would have known who he was. He starts to write sitcoms, he is looking for an agent. A friend invites him to a Dodgers game – “I’m sorry, the clock is ticking, I’m in my thirties, I have to do something with my life”.
He also wrote scripts for himself. Since he couldn’t find an agent, he came up with a fake agency that represents him. False address, and phone number. The executive producer of the popular series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air calls him to a meeting at Warner Bros. He is actually calling his fictitious agent Doug, played by none other than Terry Winter. Terry, who lives in a shanty at the time replies dead serious “Terry is in the house by the sea for the next seven days”. Comedy.
During season 2, he meets David Chase and everything becomes history, golden, handwritten history. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is the first episode he wrote, which came like almost all episodes – from life. He received an Emmy, and in 2001, together with Tim Van Patten, he won the “Writers Guild” and “Edgar” awards for the episode “Pine Barrens”, directed by Steve Buscemi.
If you thought that there is a piece in this puzzle that has no meaning, complexity, or depth, you are wrong.
Details and music
You can already see how important the details were to David Chase, but let’s affirm that. Nietzsche said that there are no beautiful surfaces without terrible depths. The Sopranos was so focused on details that a large number of small actors/actresses shined.
So much attention has been paid to it that you have to watch it at least five times. T-shirts, sweets, every action has its own meaning. How many of you know that Ralph Cifaretto often used quotes from the Stones’ song “Sympathy For The Devil”?
La Serva means fawn in Italian, and Adriana was crawling on all fours before she was shot in the forest.
Just before Big Pussy gets shot, he turns on the radio where “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads” by Frank Sinatra is played.
The original version of the song comes from a musical called Kismet (faith). The play tells the story of a cunning man who gets out of increasingly difficult situations after angering the local authorities. It’s somewhat similar to Pussy’s situation up to a point – the music itself is something of a trick to help lift the mood. He is trying to get out of the inevitable situation at the very end (allegedly misinforming the FBI).
In the play, the poet is able to avoid tragedy and through his true love, be “banished” to a kind of oasis, paradise, that is, to a story with a happy ending. But in the episode itself, Tony turns off the music halfway through the song, and from there things become irreversible for Pussy.
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James Gandolfini was once approached by a real gangster in a restaurant, who told him that he liked the show, and that it was very realistic, but that he didn’t like one thing, that the gangster never wears Bermuda shorts. Gandolfini told it during one show, it also reached the producer, Chase. There are no mistakes only if there is no vanity. Hence the scene in which Carmine Lupertazzi criticizes him for grilling in shorts.
Those who didn’t come up with a story were also creative. When the first lady in charge of the wardrobe heard what the scene was about (an angry Tony was supposed to go to Globe Motors to threaten Gloria Trillo) she decided to dress Tony in the outfit that he hated to wear the most, to make him even angrier.
The music is another story. David Chases silent suffering and love. Every song that he choose was a hit.
Peace and tranquility as Jason Barone paddle a gloomy river to the song “The Three Bells” by the Browns and an instant interruption of that same idyll with the faces of Paulie Gualtieri and Patsy Parisi in the main frame.
Tindersticks “Running Wild” in the episode Blue Comet, Kinks – “I’m Not Like Everyone Else” after he manages to knock sister Janice out of tune at a family lunch. Madreblu “Certamente”, while Chris Moltisanti takes drugs with the Italian Tana. Rocio Dursal’s heartbreaking “Frente A Frente,” after the Junior Soprano breaks up his short-lived love affair with Bobby Sanfilippo.
“All Right Now” by the band Free as Tony Sopranos and Chrissy steal a French Bordeaux in the middle of nowhere. Carmela’s soulful dance with Furio to Spaccanapoli’s “Vesuvio”. There’s no end to it.
Each one is exactly where it should be, like the final one, even though we heard it a million times before the series. Journey “Don’t Stop Believing”. Darkness on the screen, fear, shock, disbelief, confusion, admiration. Perhaps this last epithet is the most beautiful way to say goodbye to David Chase. Then let it be so. The Sopranos, that will never happen again, and all of us who have experienced it will selfishly carry that knowledge inside us, watching it over and over again.
Pavle Jakšić | Vitraž
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Cover 📷: HBO printscreen