Inspired by his brief stint as a suburban New Jersey garage-band drummer with rock-and-roll dreams, Sopranos creator David Chase made his feature-film debt with the 2012 musical coming-of-age drama Not Fade Away. Written and directed by Chase, the film focuses on Douglas (John Magaro), a suburban New Jersey high school kid obsessed with music and The Twilight Zone. It’s the early 1960s, and Douglas soon becomes transformed when he first hears the Beatles and the Stones — while also noticing how girls go for musicians, particularly Grace (Bella Heathcote), whom he has an intense crush on but who only seems to date guys in bands. When his friends Eugene (Jack Huston) and Wells (Will Brill) ask him to join their group, Douglas jumps at the chance, but it’s not until he gets the opportunity to sing lead one night that he really begins to think that music — and Grace — could be his life. Not Fade Away has all the trappings of being just another clichéd sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll movie, but Chase and musical supervisor (and executive producer) Steven “Silvio” Van Zandt circumvent genre expectations and limitations by, first and foremost, nailing the music. Van Zandt spent three months teaching the main actors how to sing, play their instruments, and, essentially, be a band, making the film feel real as the unnamed group goes from British Invasion covers to writing their own song. Even Douglas’s fights with his conservative middle-class father (James Gandolfini) and his battle with Eugene over the direction of the band are handled with an intelligence and sensitivity not usually seen in these kinds of films. Not Fade Away does make a few wrong turns along the way, but it always gets right back on track, leading to an open-ended conclusion that celebrates the power, the glory, and, ultimately, the mystery of rock and roll.
The film is being shown at IFC Center on January 10, with Chase, Magaro, and Van Zandt in attendance, as part of the Sopranos Film Festival, six days of screenings, related works, and discussions in honor of the twentieth anniversary of the HBO series, which debuted on January 10, 1999, to instant acclaim. The festival, programmed by Matt Zoller Seitz, coauthor with Alan Sepinwall of The Sopranos Sessions, kicks off January 9 at the SVA Theatre with “Woke Up This Morning: The Sopranos 20th Anniversary Celebration,” featuring clips and conversation with Chase, executive producers/writers Terence Winter and Matthew Weiner, executive producer Ilene S. Landress, and cast members Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Vincent Pastore, Robert Iler, and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, moderated by Zoller Seitz. Also on the schedule are Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell’s Performance, Kristian Fraga’s My Dinner with Alan, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Steve Buscemi’s Trees Lounge, Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, William A. Wellman’s The Public Enemy, and such key Sopranos episodes as “The Knight in White Satin Armor,” “Proshai, Livushka,” “Pine Barrens,” and “The Test Dream,” paired with Bugs Bunny and Three Stooges shorts as well as Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, placing the series, which garnered 111 Emmy nominations and 21 wins during its six seasons, in rather wide-ranging context.