04.16.13 | Brian Ramos
For today’s staff pick, producer, editor, and voice of Austin Film Festival’s On Story Podcast, Brian Ramos talks about his introduction to The Sopranos and how it taught him that it was the little things that made life worth living. For more information on our On Story Podcasts, click here.
Life’s simple pleasures link the divine to the mundane, offering up comforting magic tricks in the face of every semi-conscious minute we spend marching toward our own inevitable oblivion. Through technology we’ve gifted ourselves with every convenience and pastime in order to take our minds off of our own mortality. Although I was raised Catholic, the closest thing to God in my upbringing was television. When The Sopranos premiered in January 1999, I had lost my faith. TV was out and obscure foreign cinema at the Dobie Theatre was in. The majority of my fellow Gen Xers, at least those in my immediate circle of friends, didn’t even own television sets. Too broke for cable. No Internet at home. No smart phones because they hadn’t been invented yet, and few, if any, cell phones. To settle a bet you had to go to the library…and I don’t mean the one in your Macbook that contains all of your mp3’s…I mean the one with the books in it. So it wasn’t a blog, Netflix streaming, or Itunes that hipped me to Tony Soprano and crew. My source for good new TV then and, I confess, even now?
After catching up for a few hours on a weekend visit with mom a few months before the turn of the millennium, she looked at me and said:
“Mi’jito, I know you don’t like to watch TV anymore, but there’s a show that I think you’ll reeeeealy like….”
My father cracked the seal on a can of Coca-Cola Classic, and looked down at his shoes while nodding his head in affirmation. In went the VHS dub, on went the massive stereo my father had hooked up to the TV, and out went my high-minded sensibilities.
From the title sequence with its unforgettable Woke Up This Morning soundtrack, to the opening scene where we were introduced to Tony Soprano’s iconic heavy breathing juxtaposed against the stormy calm of Lorraine Brocco’s portrayal of Dr. Melfi, I was all at once lost in the bridge and tunnel universe of the show.
We all seem to have a quiet obsession with the charming violence depicted in mobster narratives. David Chase’s The Sopranos handled the tropes made famous by Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese in such a way as to make them even more irresistible. We might not see ourselves in the shoes of these anti-heroes, but somehow we can relate. Tony and his crew are constantly looking to the past, and the pilot explores the feelings of lament at the loss of tradition that these baby boomers experience as they come to affluent middle age.
David Chase offers insight into the creation of the show, and especially the pilot, in episode 1304 of the On Story Podcast, describing it more as a semi-biographical portrait about his mother who had a notoriously difficult personality. A week before shooting the pilot, and after seeing hundreds of women for the part, “Nancy Marchand came up to the casting office, all out of breath…this waspy, regal woman…and just channeled that thing, and there was no discussion.”
The question of casting The Sopranos comes up whenever my friends and I discuss the characters. Although many of these actors popped up in other mob stories on the big screen and small, the contrast between typecast actors and fresh faces gave the show a sweet familiarity while keeping it from feeling recycled in the way of other films of the era, (I’m looking at you, A Bronx Tale).
Any show that – in it’s first few minutes – depicts its protagonist running down a terrified debtor with his nephew’s car and then punching the man in his broken leg while Dion and the Belmonts plays in the background would have to qualify as junk food for the mind. But the production value, outstanding writing and terrific performances made this groundbreaking cable TV serial into junk food of the very highest quality.
Drama, violence, comedy and ducks…for me, this was a show about weathering the storm and holding on to the little things that make life worth living.
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