Friday, January 04, 2013

NOT FADE AWAY: The Film Babble Blog Review

Now opening exclusively in the Triangle area at Crossroads 20 in Cary:

NOT FADE AWAY (Dir. David Chase, 2012)

David Chase’s debut as director, and first project since his seminal HBO show The Sopranos, is a tribute to the era in which the British Invasion led by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones hit America hard.

It was a time when tons of teenagers dreamed of forming a rock band that would have huge hit singles, tour the world, and be chased by crowds of adoring girls. This is the story of a New Jersey teenager (John Magaro), getting together with his friends to reach for that dream, but they never make it big. As a young female narrator (Meg Guzulescu, who plays Magaro’s sister), who pops up very sparingly, says: “Like most bands, you've never heard of them.”

Although Chase opens the film with the famous meeting of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (Dominic Sheerwood and Alfie Stewart) on a London train chatting about Chicago blues records, his is a personal film about the people listening who could only fantasize about having that iconic power; the impressionable teens watching life changing TV appearances of their heroes (there are several interspersed bits of black and white footage shown full screen including the legendary appearance of the Stones on the ABC variety show The Hollywood Palace in which they were mocked by host Dean Martin).

Our young protagonist, Magaro is obsessed with the revolutionary rock of the times. His change of wardrobe and hairstyle in the span of the 4-5 years this film covers makes him look more and more like Bob Dylan, something his sullen demeanor also calls attention to.

Magaro becomes the drummer for the never really named band (the soundtrack lists them as The Twylight Zones but that’s never made clear in the film), which also includes Will Brill and Jack Huston. At one early gig at a party, Magaro takes over on lead vocal for the Stones’ “Time is on My Side,” and catches the eye of Bella Hethcote as a girl he’d been crushing on since high school. Some conflict arises when Magaro suggests that he would sing one of their songs better than Huston, and before long he’s the lead vocalist and Huston is out.

Back on the homefront, the generation gap widens as Magaro’s father (Chase’s Sopranos star James Gandolfini) disapproves greatly of his son’s rock ‘n roll lifestyle in kitchen-set scenes that remind me of the incredibly touching, rambling monologues Bruce Springsteen would deliver between songs onstage in the ‘80s about his troubled relationship with his father back during the same period this film takes place.

Springsteen is an apt analogy as E Street Band member (and another Sopranos connection) Steve Van Zandt is executive produced, supervised the soundtrack, and wrote one of the band’s few originals “The St. Valentine's Day Massacre,” as well as played on it, and their other songs too.

The Stones dominate the soundtrack, but Chase and Van Sandt touch on a lot of crucial music including old blues artists like Lead Belly, Bo Diddley, and Robert Johnson, mixed with ‘60s pop like the Small Faces, the Moody Blues, and the Left Banke. Of course, the Beatles and Dylan can’t help but pop up.

Director/screenwriter Chase sets a tone for many scenes that can make it easy to pinpoint what’s happening next, and there are one too point plot-points that never add up (Gandolfini reveals he has cancer at one point but nothing really comes from it), but the naturalistic dialogue along with the moody engulfing atmosphere, enhanced grandly by the music, made me feel like I was in these peoples’ uncertain world.

Seeing Magaro’s band find their footing practicing in the basement, gigging at parties, and recording demos at a studio is affecting even when you know they’re never going to make it. A rude awakening for the band comes in the form of Brad Garrett as a New York music business bigwig who tells them that they’re not ready; that they need to pay their dues by playing clubs full-time for 6 months.

If you’ve even been in a band, or known people in a band, or if you are into bands at all, then you’re likely to “get” this movie.

Otherwise your reaction might be like Magaro’s when going with his girlfriend Hethcoteto to see Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 pop art classic BLOW UP: “What kind of movie is this? Nothing happens.”

Director/screenwriter Chase’s NOT FADE AWAY, which is a lifted title from a '50s Buddy Holly classic that has been countlessly covered, doesn’t overly romanticize the era, it just simply conveys the excitement mixed with confusion with being so swept up in the changing times that one can, like Magaro hitchhiking down L.A.'s Sunset Strip at midnight at the film’s end, find their lives blowing in the wind.

More later...

1 comment:

The Kid In The Front Row said...

Been looking forward to this one - nice write-up, I shall be seeing it very soon! Don't think it's here in the UK yet.