“When you’re singing the blues, the lyric line often starts “Woke Up This Morning”. Life just comes and fucks you right over, right?” – Pat, Not Fade Away
“Woke Up This Morning, got yourself a gun” – Opening theme to The Sopranos
Revisiting this I paid closer attention to Chase’ work, how he holds the film together and transitions from one scene to another, as well as how he uses music to incite emotional momentum or juxtaposition. As a major fan of The Sopranos, I know these are things he is especially good at but the choices can often be so subtle as to not be immediately apparent in their complexity. True to form, this is where Not Fade Away‘s real brilliance shines through.
This is film as memory bank, closer to Terence Davies’ portraits of upbringing than, say, a Scorsese rock n’ roll pic, which is probably what most people expected and/or wanted. The key is in the scenes of domestic turmoil – themselves a cornerstone of Sopranos‘ success, and often more violent and fraught than the pure mob stuff – in which Gandolfini challenges his son’s progressive values and changing image, ultimately building to furious outbursts over the breakfast table in much the same way Pete Postlethwaite explodes in Davies’ Distant Voices, Still Lives.
The story spans multiple years throughout the 1960s and yet Chase rarely signposts the jumps in time, instead relying on mixed in signifiers to clue the audience in: the changes in lingo, hair length and attitudes of its characters as well as the flow from one season into another and, ofcourse, the music.
Rock n’ roll is this movie’s Lord and Saviour. The opening meld of a broadcast test merging into the initial blasts of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones is truly sublime and the constant presence of music from there on out provides the film with a necessary spine. It works as a document of this era of popular music in America and tracks the development through eyes lit by the glow of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show and various other TV appearances. It lights the fuse which leads to armies of teens picking up instruments and jamming in their garage for the first time. All this stuff has been heavily documented elsewhere, naturally, and the bands and needle drops aren’t exactly from a playlist of deep cuts, but through Chase’s eyes it all flows through an autobiographical lens. This isn’t about the formation of a seminal band, but by one of the countless bands that went nowhere and how that chapter in their lives led to the boys finding their true callings elsewhere.
One last thing: I love Chase’s penchant for constantly stopping to grab the reactions of people on the periphery of the main characters – Magaro’s younger sister earwigging on her brother’s plans, a gardener stopping to interrupt a conversation as he passes – showing that Chase never loses sight of the bigger picture and the other stories and developments constantly in motion elsewhere. It’s these witnesses to progress that will often turn out to be their ultimate gatekeepers: the storytellers. A group of which David Chase is surely a seasoned member.
Watched on blu-ray.