THE SOPRANOS (David Chase, 1999).
The only thing I really remember from the late 90s is all the articles declaring that since we now had the technology to put Sean Connery’s head on a dragon, we no longer needed actors, and any need for humanity at all was obviously winding down. I’m pretty sure the local newspaper had a picture of Dustin Hoffman in a trashcan with the headline ‘The End of Hoffman, the End of Man, We Welcome Our CGI Overlords.’
During the entire run of THE SOPRANOS, I lived in preparation for the end of life as we knew it. The only TV I watched was a worn VHS copy of REIGN OF FIRE. I went to college and took Latin. I learned how to use Adobe products. Some mix of Latin, and Photoshop, I assumed, was probably the CG dragons’ native language. I smoked thousands of cigarettes to get used to the taste of smoke. In my dreams I saw the future, the face of every celebrity on a 3-D dragon body burning the world down.
I saw a couple of episodes of THE SOPRANOS here and there, but I mostly avoided it for a few reasons. It didn’t really have anything to do with the Dragonheart apocalypse we were rushing towards. I also owned maybe four things at this point in my life, and none of them were cable television. And I lived, grew up in, and still live in Northern New Jersey.
A few months ago I was in a CVS and a Bruce Springsteen song came on the in-store radio. Half the customers started singing along. There were people by the greeting cards, eyes closed, swaying back and forth in each other’s arms. There was a guy weeping by the cold medicine. I ran out of the store, silently screaming.
That reaction to The Boss, is essentially the reaction I remember the people around me having to THE SOPRANOS. Except endlessly, for seven years. People were naming their children after characters. Stores, that were featured on the show, were changing their names to the fictional names they had on TV. A pizza place opened next to where I worked called Soprano’s Pizza. I ran out of every building, silently screaming.
I avoided THE SOPRANOS and Bruce Springsteen wherever I could, fearing the cult-like grip they held on white people in New Jersey. I saw them as celebrations of a culture that as a young person, I found mediocre, and irritating, and representative of everything I disliked, and feared becoming. It was like I saw the true CG dragons of the future, except it was Little Steven’s head on my aged body.
One of the interesting things about watching THE SOPRANOS in 2013, besides the fact that both humanity and actors still exist, is that when I talk to people around here about it, they look at me like I’m either amish, or an ex-convict, or both. I started talking to my dad a couple of weeks ago about a plot point in one of the early episodes, and he stammered, and looked at me worried, as if I was showing signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
I started watching it a few months ago. I’m watching one episode at a time as a reward to myself for exceptional, personal achievements like getting out of bed, or getting out from under my bed, or answering my phone. I just finished the first season.
The first episode is pretty clumsy like pilots usually are, but it lays out its main themes. Tony Soprano is a mafia boss that’s unsure about the choices he’s made in his life. He worries that the only reference he and others have for him is in gangster movies. There’s homages to, reversals of, and quotes from a lot of movies, and TV shows, and paintings, and books.
Imagine me writing the previous paragraph with a quill while dressed as a pilgrim, shocked by your future.
The reason the narrative on the show begins is because Tony has a panic attack after the family of ducks that live in his backyard fly away. He goes to therapy. His therapist tells him that the ducks were a metaphor, and that maybe they represented his family. This ends both the episode and Tony’s voiceover which, so far, has only been in the pilot.
Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem about a bunch of dudes on a boat that are being followed by an albatross. The crew starts to think this albatross is a good omen, and their mascot, and eventually somehow representative of them. Realizing this, the mariner shoots it down. He wants to prove to the crew that the bird has nothing to do with them. It’s just a metaphor.
Coleridge, in writing the poem, was attempting to change epic poetry from a fictional, metaphorical narrative, to a personal one. He stuck in a lot of references to other books, and poems, and the bible which was like the GOODFELLAS of its time. Shooting the albatross was his attempt to break the fourth wall, and remind you that you’re a person reading a poem written by another person. The mariner isn’t real. Metaphor isn’t real.
I think the ducks in Tony Soprano’s pool are supposed to be the albatross. It seems like his realization that these ducks were a metaphor, and his increasing realizations that everything in his world is a metaphor, or reference, lead to him beginning to suspect that he isn’t real. The fourth wall is broken. His voice over ends. His writers take over. The reason he begins having his panic attacks, and the main plot of the show, so far, seems to be him slowly coming to terms with the fact that he’s a character on a TV show. No more real than a CG dragon.
TWIXT (Francis Ford Coppola, 2011).
A few years ago, Francis Ford Coppola publicly addressed George Lucas and told him to stop making STAR WARS shit, and start making more ‘personal’ films. The problem I always had with that story is that Lucas is essentially the Louis CK of big budget Hollywood movies. I seriously doubt anyone tells him what to do. I doubt that anyone pressures him into adding scenes into his old stuff. Those STAR WARS prequels are imagination unbound.
Coppola has made three movies since then, that he finances and distributes himself. These are his attempts at small, personal narratives that aren’t THE PHANTOM MENACE.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen the first one, YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH, but I remember it being about an old man, that after being struck by lightning, gets younger, and develops the ability to read books by just waving his hand over them essentially absorbing the information.
The second one was TETRO, which is about a kid coming to terms with hating his famous, composer father.
TWIXT is about a once popular writer, struggling to break away from the work he’s done before to create a book that’s more artistically satisfying after his daughter dies.
All of these movies take events from not only Coppola’s life, but from his movies. One of the things that I find pretty interesting about them though, is that they directly rip off other, contemporary directors as well.
TETRO is shot like a Guy Maddin movie. TWIXT has an endless amount of references to TWIN PEAKS, and other David Lynch stuff. TETRO also looks a lot like RUMBLE FISH. TWIXT also looks a lot like DRACULA.
I think he sees himself as the YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH character, energized by absorbing the work around him, but it’s almost like Coppola (who I always thought was the biggest and maybe best mimic of the movie brats) is attempting to work out his influence on director’s that make more ‘personal’ movies, in order to make his own. He’s struggling with events from his own life, but also events from his filmmaking career, and film watching career.