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Don’t Let ‘Not Fade Away’ Fade Away

Don't Let 'Not Fade Away' Fade Away

The Wikipedia page for “Not Fade Away” is one of the saddest I’ve ever seen. A single line about its director and release date, an incomplete cast list, and a couple of links. That’s it. The Wikipedia page for “Iron Man 3,” by point of comparison, is almost 9,000 words long. And “Not Fade Away” wasn’t some tiny independent from an unknown filmmaker — it was the feature directorial debut of David Chase, who, as the creator and guiding force behind “The Sopranos,” made one of the greatest and most iconic television shows in the medium’s history. A couple of lines on Wikipedia and a pitiful $600,000 box office gross, and “Not Fade Away” was well on its way to becoming nothing more than a footnote on a brilliant pop culture resume. As I wrote in January when I included “Not Fade Away” on my list of the best movies of 2012, its title is like some kind of cruel joke. Not fade away? Sorry, no. That’s exactly what your movie’s going to do.

How does this happen? How does the guy who made arguably the best TV show in history makes a movie full of all the things that made that show wonderful — rich, compelling characters, note-perfect dialogue, dead-end New Jersey living, James Gandolfini — without it becoming at least a moderate hit? There are practical reasons to consider, like the glut of bigger prestige movies around its late December release date and its surprisingly lukewarm critical reaction (just a 69% on Rotten Tomatoes and a B on our own Criticwire Network), but they all seem small in the face of a great movie with a great pedigree. Sometimes on this job, you can see a hit or a flop coming a mile away. And sometimes all your instincts for what audiences want are proven wildly incorrect. How does this happen?

Someone much smarter than me will have to explain it. In meantime, you should know that “Not Fade Away” is out now on DVD and Blu-ray. If you liked “The Sopranos,” if you’re a fan of ’60s garage rock, do yourself a favor: watch this movie.

Even with all of Chase’s television skills imported to the big screen, “Not Fade Away” didn’t feel like a TV show on the big screen. While he may be best known (for now) as a writer and producer, Chase is also a superb director, one who understands the interplay between sound and image as well as anyone in Hollywood, and who can tell stories with pictures just as effectively as he can with words. Note the economy of simple but powerful transitions like the one that blends the drone of an Emergency Broadcast System test with the rough and ragged chords of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” or the perfect symmetry of the opening and closing scenes — in the first, the camera pans from a movie theater to a music store; in the second, the action is reversed. In short order, Chase builds an entire world in mid-’60s suburban New Jersey, populated by aspiring rocker Doug (John Magaro), his band The Twylight Zones, and his working-class Italian family (Gandolfini plays his loving but frustrated father). Doug’s band is accomplished (with music written by Chase’s old “Sopranos” co-hort Steven Van Zandt) but success remains elusive. Doug kindles a relationship with a beauty named Grace (Bella Heathcote), but life has other plans for both of them.

Some reviews criticized Chase for making Doug and his bandmates too unsympathetic (because, I guess, we all watched “The Sopranos” because Tony was such a sweet guy) and for cramming “an entire TV season’s worth of narrative,” in the words of one writer I spoke with last year, into an 110 minute movie. Both decisions, though, were crucial to “Not Fade Away”‘s impact. Rather than evoke the 1960s, Chase evokes what it feels like to remember the 1960s — recreating this particular time and place that exists only in his mind. Naturally, that memory is selective. The big moments remain; the little ones fade away.

It’s been a few months since anyone dove into the film-versus-television-and-which-is-better debate, and I’m not going to restart it now, but I am going to make one observation. Chase made “The Sopranos” on television and he was more than accepted; his ideas and intelligence practically revolutionized the entire medium. Then he moved to film, bringing the same level of sophistication and nuance, and what happened? Nobody cared. I still love film. But the fact that a genius can have so much success in one medium and so little in the other is deeply discouraging — and maybe very telling about the state of adult storytelling in both industries.

Movies’ continuing advantage, though, is that there’s no such thing as cancellation in this world. You can watch “Not Fade Away” tonight and be all caught up. And then you can tell other people to watch it. Hopefully one of them will take a few minutes and update that pathetic Wikipedia page.

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I love this movie. I have seen many mixed reviews. But I love it. I appreciated more with a second viewing on DVD. I wish I could have found it in a theatre with a much better sound than my small 30" TV. In fact turning on the caption helped! I couldn't hear some of the dialog the first time! I think – I could be wrong and only David Chase knows for sure – that some initial dialog between Doug and his father where Doug comments things never turn out like they seem (referencing the Twilight zone) and his father says something about life turning out to be too much like it seems sort of sets the stage do to speak. From there each experiences a bit of both. Dad almost gets a last minute shot at romance but settles back in his life of dreariness. Son experiences set backs despite an unexpected serendipitous shot at popularity, but still ends with a wistful look of hopfulness about his future.


Wow, I totally disagree. This movie was d-u-m-b. Overwrought and silly. As if a complete amateur wrote it. Covers JFK assassination, Vietnam, cold war and other historical moments in an attempt to, ostensibly, provide some (clumsy) form of relevance and context, because the characters are so unmemorable and stale.

One of the more predictable plots I've witnessed in a some time. I started giggling when Jack Huston says "why don't you take (the motorcycle) for a spin" because it was so formulaic–you know exactly what's going to happen.

The dialogue was really, really bad.

"Do you believe in me?" "So-and-so says that you said you believe in her."

"Arghh! Magnesium! I've been horribly burned!!!" <—– actual line of character who just burned his scalp with fireworks.

The end, with the young girl narrator talking about rock & roll and nuclear bombs, and then dancing…that was one of THE most cringe-worthy cinematic moments I've ever seen. Just horrible.

The older sister and her wackiness and bringing home the old hippie dude, and then getting carted away to a mental institution–that whole plot point was so over-the-top and goofy.

I tried to like this, I really did.

Can't believe you guys are defending it.


I agree. I was shocked nobody else seemed to care about this movie when it came out. One of the strongest films of 2012 for me.


If you're such a big fan, why don't you update the Wiki page?


I wish I saw the movie you describe here! I haven't seen much of The Sopranos so I have no real point of comparison (and less, I'd argue, potential disappointment), but it's not just that a "TV season's worth" of stuff is crammed into a two-hour movie — because it's not as if the movie is all that eventful. More than that, it feels to me like one of those unwieldy adaptations of a novel, where no one wants to cut out TOO much, so they leave in a little bit of everything. So you have this movie with a narrator (the younger sister) who's not developed at all as a character (and forces the movie to shoehorn in reaction shots so we see why she might make sense as a narrator — at least until the movie starts chronicling stuff she'd have no real way of knowing anything about); you have these bizarre skips in time that sometimes make the movie hard to follow;

I agree that Chase has had some chops — that scene where the kids are forming their band, cutting between their growing lineup and the rock performance on TV is masterful. His ear for dialogue is terrific. And yes, that a lot of the stuff people prize about "quality" TV gets ignored or dismissed at the movies as part of the rush to crown TV our new king. But the movie kind of washed out, I think, because, well, it does kind of wash out. It's not all that rewarding. Maybe that's an unfair criticism for a movie that is really about the mechanics of not hitting it big. But by the last half-hour, it has meandered so far away from that idea that I wasn't sure what Chase wanted to do, besides convey how he felt in the sixties. Which is interesting but not two hours' worth of interesting.


This chimes with Soderbergh's recent state of the movies address very clearly. I thought Not Fade Away was a mixed bag, but yes, there was a lot of very good stuff in it – guys of a certain age will recognize how true it is. And as you might hope for a movie with that title, a truly great ending. (And further to your point about how it was overlooked, my online editor decided it didn't merit a review, predicting, probably correctly, it wouldn't get the clicks.)

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