Lorraine Bracco (#110 of 3)

Sopranos Week: I Believe in America

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<em>Sopranos</em> Week: I Believe in America
<em>Sopranos</em> Week: I Believe in America

With the final episodes of The Sopranos soon to air on HBO, it's worth considering where the show fits in the pantheon of great mob stories that have been committed to film. Yes, The Sopranos is a TV show, but as such it is sui generis and can only be compared to films.

In one self-referential scene, Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) and her family are eating dinner while her ex-husband laments how Italian-Americans are portrayed in movies about the Mafia. Her son, Jason, counters that mob movies have replaced westerns as the dominant narrative of the American experience. A self-serving viewpoint, perhaps, from a show like The Sopranos, but it's also an observation that is hard to dispute.

The Sopranos Recap: Season 6, Episode 1, "Members Only"

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<em>The Sopranos</em> Recap: Season 6, Episode 1, “Members Only”
<em>The Sopranos</em> Recap: Season 6, Episode 1, “Members Only”

Talk about starting with a bang. Last night's Sopranos premiere broke with the show's traditional slow-building intro by jam-packing two hours of plot into 60 minutes and capping the episode with one of its most startling violent acts: de-fanged, housebound and Alzheimers'-suffering ex-mob boss Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) shooting New Jersey mob kingpin Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) in the chest at close range. It was vintage Sopranos, expected yet somehow surprising, and twisted and pathetic rather than superficially exciting. You always figured Tony might get shot, but not like this. It was downright humiliating, especially when director Tim van Patten cut to a God's-eye-view shot of fat, bloody Tony lying on the kitchen floor, laboring to hoist his bathroom-scale-certified 280 pounds high enough to grab the wall phone and call 911.

Tony can't die, of course; at least he can't die this soon. Series creator David Chase can go on all he likes about how every cast member is fair game, but you still know he's not going to kill his leading man with 19 episodes left to go. So as powerful as that shooting was, it still feels a bit like wheel-spinning. (Michael Imperioli's Chris Moltisanti survived a less embarrassing shooting incident in Season Two.) But it's still a shocking development, one that sets the stage for Chase and his writers to indulge their David Lynch-Dennis Potter fixation by pulling Tony out of this world and putting him into another one. The lead sentence from one of my Star-Ledger colleague Alan Sepinwall's Sopranos preview pieces now makes sense: “There are going to be more dreams. Deal with it.”

Steadi’s Daddy

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Steadi’s Daddy
Steadi’s Daddy

[Author's Note: Since the Steadicam discussion seems to be flowering into something more than an argument about a piece of equipment, rather than change the subject with a totally different post, I'll stay the course. What follows is reprint of an article I wrote about the history and aesthetics of the Steadicam, built around an interview with the device's creator, Garrett Brown. It was originally published in the Winter 2005 issue of Film Festival Reporter magazine, which is edited by my friend Scott Bayer, a journalist and filmmaker.]

Garrett Brown might be the most influential filmmaker that the moviegoing public hasn't heard of. Throughout his long career, the 62-year old Philadelphian has been a mostly behind-the-scenes presence in the industry, working as cinematographer, cameraman, inventor and teacher. Yet his impact has been as profound as that of any auteur, star or studio executive, thanks to his greatest invention: the Steadicam, a combination camera and body harness that merged the improvisational freedom of the handheld shot with the elegance of the dolly, and expanded the frontiers of cinema.

In the 30 years since the camera made its debut in director Hal Ashby's Woody Guthrie biography Bound for Glory—in a still-dazzling shot that began atop a high crane, drifted to earth and then wove through a camp full of migrant workers—the Steadicam has become a star player in some of the most visually and dramatically memorable sequences of the past three decades, sequences that advance the narrative while subtly commenting on the meaning and uses of movie language.