David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, may be respected for giving the world one of the greatest television shows of all time, but when he jumped into feature films with Not Fade Away, he seems to have been allowed to do whatever he wanted, but the finished product was abandoned by its studio (Paramount), who must not have thought it was Oscar material. That’s too bad as Not Fade Away is a film that feels alive with the possibilities of cinema, but also is aware of the past. The story of a band that never made it, Chase’s semi-autobiographical tale paints a great portrait of teenagers going through the 1960’s and are swept up in the cultural changes reflected in the music of the era. My review of the Blu-ray of Not Fade Away follows after the jump.
Jack Magaro plays Douglas, a young drummer who starts the film in high school. He’s got a crush on Grace Dietz (Bella Heathcote), but she doesn’t even notice him. That changes when he and his friends start to form a band. At first he plays drums, but one night he’s asked to sing lead vocals, and it starts to create some fractures in the band. Wells (Will Brill) is the lead singer, but he’s a better guitarist, while Eugene (Jack Huston) quietly supports Douglas. At home, Doug’s dad Pat (James Gandolfini) hates the way that Doug dresses and thinks he looks like someone fresh off the boat. He also wants his son to go to school, especially with Vietnam in the air.
Douglas and Grace start dating, but Grace has problems at home as her sister may be a little insane, and may also be taking too much acid. Grace is the rich girl from school, and when one of Doug’s bandmates reveals that she’s slept with most of the band, Doug goes ballistic, accusing Grace of being a starfucker. They get over this, but there’s definitely an underlying tension. All the while the band starts falling apart as Wells wants to get more attention, and everyone’s thinking about what happens when they’re famous, without thinking about what it takes to get there. Eventually they get a chance to record a demo, while Doug’s father reveals that he’s terminally ill.
Chase paints a portrait of East coast kids hoping to be the next big thing with such a fine ear for details. If you’ve ever been around people who want to be famous, the way the bandmates talk sounds so perfect even if you cringe knowing that the way they talk almost dooms them to failure. And though much of this is about Doug, Grace is no manic pixie dream girl — she’s no fantasy figure — and what Chase is smart about is making us sympathetic to both sides when she fights with Doug. Maybe it’s modern mores, but him prickling at her sleeping around with his friends reveals his insecurities and ego, and the end does a great job of showing his hypocrisy, but also perhaps truth.
Perhaps it should be expected of Chase after The Sopranos, but the ending doesn’t spell everything out as one might want, but it does give you such a great portrait of how the world is changing so quickly. Douglas may be set adrift, but if you view the film as autobiographical, you can see that he’ll end up okay, while Chase is also detailing a portrait of the era, so it must close with punk rock and the end of free love with a roaring Sex Pistols version of Roadrunner. It may all be going to hell, but at least we can dance.
Paramount may have gone through a change in management, but it’s so strange that this film was virtually abandoned by its studio. It was released (on limited screens) at the end of the year, and when it didn’t get much critical or academy support it disappeared. But from how Chase uses music, you can tell he’s a really good filmmaker as the cues never feel on the nose, but right for period. Perhaps it’s because there’s been too many stories by men recounting their pasts, too many white males who want to eulogize their youths, or tell barely concealed fantasies of their own lives. But though Chase may be working in a terrible genre, he manages to do so in a fresh and exciting way. This was one of 2012’s best films and it should be sought out.
Paramount’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. Extras include a three-part making-of called ‘The Basement Tapes’ (35 minutes) that interviews most of the cast and crew about the development and making of the film. There’s also ‘Building the Band’ (3 min.) which goes into how the cast members were trained for four months how to be rock stars. There’s also four deleted scenes (6 min.), that are mostly scraps.