Writer/director David Chase was in Boston to promote his latest film Not Fade Away. The man, who is best known as the creator of The Sopranos, talked about the film, the music that influenced him and his movie and maybe a little bit about his beloved HBO series. What the film is about, from the its official website:
Not Fade Away, David Chase’s deeply felt love letter to the music of the Sixties, is a film about dreams that come true — and the ones that never do. For Chase, “It’s about anybody who has ever had a dream and about what it takes to actually realize that dream. Rock & Roll is at the heart of the movie because for some of the characters, rock music is the gateway to transcendence, but it doesn’t end there.”
The film is a coming of age story about Douglas (played by John Magaro) who finds love in music and wants to start a band with his friends and falls in love with a girl all while battling family issues at home. Music is almost a character itself in the film and influences Douglas’ life. David Chase was asked what band or music first got him into music, “It probably happened before this movie (the time period of the film). I guess Tell Me, The Rolling Stones song and Not Fade Away really turned me on. But it was probably pre-British invasion. Like maybe Let It Rock, the Chuck Berry song. Bo Diddley, stuff like that.” He was asked how much of the film’s budget was music rights, “15-20%.”
The film really focuses on the musical instruments, singing, how bands form. The cast is a lot of lesser known actors and he was asked why making the film that way was important to him, David Chase, “I really wanted to do a movie about the music. I love the music from that period and I’ve seen movies about bands like The Beatles and I just didn’t want to a movie about the personalities. First and foremost I wanted to do a movie about the music they were trying to learn and appreciate.”
Well known musician Steven Van Zandt is an executive producer of the film and is also a music supervisor on it. Mr. Chase talked about their collaboration. “Stevie came in way before I started writing. We’re friends from The Sopranos, whenever we get together we talk and he’s a complete Stones fanatic. We have similar tastes. Whenever we get together we would argue about what was the best song, the best song on that album and blah blah blah. He’s a font of information and I could listen to him for days because he’s knows about the recording of all that stuff and who did what. I talked to him about this script before it was even written. Then after it was written, second draft, well first draft it just wasn’t working for me and I wanted to quit and lost interest, he sent me this song, a demo of his called St. Valentine’s Day Massacre which is in the movie. I liked the song so much, it said so much to me about Rock n’ Roll, I thought, don’t give up on this. You owe it to Rock n’ Roll, Rock n’ Roll is a great subject, keep going.”
The film takes place in a time period when David Chase was in his late teens, early 20’s and he was asked how much of the film was autobiographical. David Chase, “A lot of it is personal not really autobiographical. My feelings about things are in there, but the events are not real. It’s kinda semi-autobiographical. The stuff with the father is kinda like me and my father.”
The father-son dynamic is what stood out the most to me. James Gandolfini plays Douglas’ father and it’s that classic 1960’s family relationship where the child rebels and the father doesn’t understand the long hair and there’s fighting and yelling. You don’t see that nowadays in today’s politically correct world so I asked him if that was important, to show that type of family life. “There was this real disconnect in those days between that generation of parents and their children. They had done so much for their children and had such hopes for them, to see them turn out to be so aggressive toward the middle class way of life. It must have been very painful.”
The idea of family in The Sopranos was very important. He was asked about the idea of family in this film. “I feel in this movie it states a basic human dilemma or conflict of interest which is the pull of security versus the pull of freedom. We all want to be part of something, part of a family, have a place to go back to, where they’ll open the door for us. At the same time we want to be individuals, in charge of our own destiny, nobody can tell us what to do or define us. Those two things are constantly pulling. That’s way I see this film in terms of the family dynamic. To me Douglas has a family in the beginning which is pulling him the wrong way he thinks. Then he finds another family which is the band and then the band proves to be an undependable family. Then he’s about to start his own little family with Grace, his girlfriend. They talk about having their own house and go out to California together. Then she deserts him. And then he’s left to his own devices so he’s free, he’s alone, but he’s free.”
The ending to Not Fade Away is pretty ambiguous with Douglas’ sister doing a dance in the middle of the street. The sister plays a key role in the film as narrator and almost a balance between characters without people realizing her purpose. Mr. Chase talked about the ending and the sister the character. “The ending was always there. She always had that scene at the end. The reason I had her deliver that coda is because I wanted it to be a statement about Rock n’ Roll not from someone who wasn’t a would be artist or a tortured expert, but just from a kid, a regular audience member kid who likes to dance. That was always going to be her part. I also felt that she was the moral voice of the movie, she was always scolding people about their lack of political correctness. She was very observant, she like her brother, had grown up in this dreary household, but she’s kinda spunky and perky throughout the whole thing where her brother is not. When the film was first put together, some people in early audiences didn’t understand that the band wasn’t a real band. They are so used to bio-pics that they thought it was the story of a real band. People couldn’t understand A) How come they didn’t make it and why you would make a movie about someone not making it and B) If they are a real band who are they? I began to realize a lot of what’s going on in the movie isn’t playing for them (getting across to them). So that’s why I added the narration (at the end).”
Because early screenings left some audience members not getting “it”, he was asked if he felt pressured to follow any of the expectations of normal music movies. David Chase, “To me a lot of those movies are about a struggle with drugs, some kind of a crisis or some kind of withdrawal and I wasn’t interested in any of that stuff. So I never thought about doing that. I wanted to make a movie about all the people who tried to make a Rock n’ Roll band and failed. There’s a lot of us. That was the story I wanted to tell, not about the people who actually made it.”
The character of Douglas evolves more and more during the movie. He starts to get ideas of exploring film and how music and film relate. Asked if that idea came while writing the script or if that was always there, David Chase, “That was part of the story for me. To me the story is about a guy who maybe he doesn’t become a Rock n’ Roll star, but he becomes an artist of some kind. Rock n’ Roll is his gateway into the whole thing that is creativity and the art world. A friend of mine just recently told me Stanley Kubrick said that ‘Movies have a lot more to do with music than they do to literature.”
Every generation thinks their music is the best music. I asked Mr. Chase why his generation’s music is the best. “Because it is. (laughing). You know it as well as I know it. It was a great musical time. I had another time, the whole period of Elvis Costello, The Pretenders, that was another great era of music. Motown was great music to me. But in terms of white Rock n’ Roll, something happened there. I don’t know what it was. It has something to do with the melodic-ness of English and Irish music, it seemed to get into Rock n’ Roll. It made it an extraordinary mixture.”
Like previously mentioned the film has a pretty ambiguous ending like his TV show The Sopranos and the audience has to figure it out for themselves and add their own ending. Asked if he has an intended ending that he thinks the movie laid out or if he wants the audience to draw its own conclusions. “I just found that the possible answers were unsatisfactory. I basically felt that if you’ve constructed a story that boils down to the conventional love story of a man and a woman, the question is, do they stay together or do they not stay together? My feeling was that they’re too young to be together. I don’t believe they would stick it out through all that. I believe it’s different from The Sopranos because in The Sopranos you really don’t know what happened. I think you have a pretty good idea where this kid is headed. You don’t know where Tony Soprano is headed at all, but you do sort of know where this kid is headed and probably where his girlfriend is headed. So to me there is a difference. Although people don’t like not knowing. They don’t like ambiguity. The movie hasn’t opened yet, but I imagine a lot of audience members saying what the (curse word) was that?” Sounds like Mr. Chase has been listening to some fans complaints about the ending of The Sopranos.
Not Fade Away is in select theaters opening wider in Boston on December 28th.
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