Friday, June 21, 2013

James Gandolfini (1961-2013)

This comes as a my small, but personal tribute to the excellent on screen presence that was immense actor James Gandolfini (1961-2013).

Gandolfini along with David Chase and a stellar cast spearheaded HBO's original programming with the mind-blowing The Sopranos (1999-2007), a New Jersey-centered, family-based mafia drama, psychological examination and thrill ride.  The Sopranos wasn't the first original series but it was arguably one of HBO's best.  HBO would follow after the success of The Sopranos and Sex And The City (1998-2004) with Band Of Brothers (2001), Six Feet Under (2001-2005), The Wire (2002-2008), Carnivale (2003-2005), Deadwood (2004-2006), Rome (2005-2007), Big Love (2006-2011), John Adams (2008), The Pacific (2010), True Blood (2008-present), Boardwalk Empire (2010-present) and Game Of Thrones (2011-present).  Television had changed forever.  It was never the same after The Sopranos.  It was now amazing.

Laced throughout with amazing and damaged characters, The Sopranos was led by vulnerable and complex patriarch Tony Soprano, played by Gandolfini.  Tony Soprano lived between two worlds, his mafia family and his own nuclear family, forever under self-examination concerning purpose and identity.  HBO delivered a series that was essentially the substantive equivalent of what HBO's  Band Of Brothers (2001) was to Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan (1998), a non-stop mafia thriller in the same vein as Martin Scorsese's Good Fellas (1990) but with a much more extensive canvas for character arc. He was the man as the patriarch of The Sopranos for six riveting seasons and 86 episodes.

The morality play that was The Sopranos was an illustrative example of a man torn between the mafia and his true family.  The example mirrored the character of Frank Black and the line he walked between his family and the Millennium Group on Chris Carter's Millennium (1996-1999), a series that ended as The Sopranos began. Secret society-based concepts like The Sopranos became central to my contribution, This Is Who We Are: Secret Society And Family Redefined for the book Back To Frank Black: A Return To Chris Carter's Millennium (2012) edited by Adam Chamberlain and Brian A. Dixon.  Source material couldn't be more entertaining.

Ultimately, Gandolfini's passing comes as a stunner and such a loss to fans of this memorable actor and for those who hung on every scene to the final fade to back on The Sopranos.  As far as fans were concerned Tony was still out there and he made the fictional character multi-dimensional in every way to the point of becoming a beloved but tortured soul.  Gandolfini was also terrific early on in True Romance (1993), and following Emmy awards for The Sopranos Gandolfini was notable in The Last Castle (2001) and appeared as recently as last year in the high profile Zero Dark Thirty (2013).

On a personal note, it was some years ago that The One To Be Pitied purchased The Sopranos for me as a Christmas gift on DVD.  I think she wanted to watch it more than me.  Being a fan leaning more heavily toward science fiction I really had no interest in The Sopranos at the time.  So, The One To Be Pitied was less than pleased with me when I went back to the store with the DVD box set for store credit and then proceeded to replace the gift with roughly 7-10 science fiction films of my choosing. Not good.  Had I given that a bit more thought I might have held onto the set, not because it was The Sopranos, but because I value my peace and my life. I never heard the end of it.

Of course it was made even worse when one evening a year later she saw a Blu-Ray for The Sopranos Season One on my shelf as I sat and watched riveted.  She stopped.

"What are you watching?"

"Umm, that would be The Sopranos."  I knew I was in trouble.

"I thought you sold my gift back to the store."

"Uh, yes, I did. That is true."

"What is this then?"

"Well, I kind of decided I wanted to watch The Sopranos after all and bought the box set again. A friend told me I should watch it."

"Oh a friend did? You ass." Huff!  I believe something was thrown at me and she steamed off.  

"... But I did upgrade to Blu-Ray though (damn)."  I still don't live that one down.

You'd think I'd learn my lesson, but then I did the same thing with a Seinfeld box set about a year later.  Not good.  What was I thinking? Maybe my son is right about that chipmunk-sized pea brain he ribs me about.  I am terrible gift receiver.  But that's another story. 

But I do credit The One To Be Pitied to this day for planting the seed that I needed to watch the series and long before I read and heard about the amazing series she was far ahead of her time on the greatness of Mr. James Gandolfini.  I share this little story in good humor in memory of one of the great series I had the pleasure of experiencing thanks in part to Gandolfini's performance as Tony Soprano.

When it was all said and done, Gandolfini helped to deliver one of the great TV series masterpieces ever made. In American television history, this was tragic, relevant stuff and just pure damn good on every level.

Gandolfini passed away unexpectedly while on vacation with his family on June 19, 2013. He was just 51. Many are indeed sad to say goodbye to this young man who will no doubt be remembered fondly.

I'm sure it will come as a shock to fans of the man's work.  I know I was stunned learning of the death of Freddie Mercury.  I remember driving home from Florida in November 1991 when I learned singer Mercury passed away at the young age of forty-five. I was immediately saddened by the news.  He was one of the greats in his field. Gandolfini, too, was likewise the best in his craft.

You simply cannot take your gifts and your time on this great big ball called Earth for granted. It is far too short.

To close, as a fan of music, and in memory of the viewing experience that was The Sopranos with James Gandolfini, here is the well-selected and exceptional theme song, to the series, Woke Up This Morning (Chosen One Mix) by Alabama 3 from the album Exile On Coldharbour Lane (1997).



J.D. Lafrance said...

Well said! A fitting tribute to a great character actor. THE SOPRANOS certainly paved the way for a whole new wave of intelligent TV shows like MAD MEN and BREAKING BAD.

le0pard13 said...

Wonderful tribute, SFF. An actor who will be sorely missed.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I almost wrote at the end of that first paragraph:

Would we have Breaking Bad or Dexter?

Cheers guys.