Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Last night at MoMA for “The Sopranos”

Looking east across 53rd Street towards the Citicorp building's (in Queens) blinding reflection of last night's sunset. 7:00 PM. Photo: JH.
3.21.07 - Been feeling lousy? Got a cold; a cough you can’t shake; exhausted by ten-thirty in the morning? Welcome to springtime 2007.

I was feeling that way last night when I made my way over to MoMA for one of Peggy Siegal’s private screenings – this time for the first two episodes of the final season of “The Sopranos.” I rarely get to these things, which is unfortunate, because as you know there is often nothing more relaxing to take you away from the day-to-day than a good movie.

Brad Grey and David Chase
The evening was called for 7. There were about two hundred congregated in the entrance gallery of this great museum with a big long temporary bar set up under the great Frank Stella just across the corridor from the Auguste Rodin“Honore de Balzac” presiding with infinite grandeur over the entrance to the museum garden. It’s so fabulous that all you can think is how lucky we are to be able to be there amongst this magnificent collection of the brighter (brilliant) aspects of human creativity.

This was not a starry crowd like some other screenings we’ve seen, not to us civilians, that is; except to those in the know (and beauties like Glenn Close who is such a pleasure just to observe from across the room). But it was a starry crowd to last night’s assemblage for there were the Hollywood heavies from Brad Grey (head honcho of Paramount Pictures) to Tom Freston (former head honcho of Viacom who got pink-slipped; gilted of course in the Sumner Redstone’s The Thomas Cruise Affair) and David Chase, the creator of the show.

These are personages very dear to the hearts of the string-pullers and master-networkers in the world of media, movie stars and mega-grosses. Producers, directors, writers, editors, those who would be if they could be; executives aspiring (and expiring), their friends and relations former, present and future (all types).

About seven-twenty, we all were urged to make our way downstairs to the large and sleek screening room where MoMA’s fantastic archive of a century of film is exhibited regularly. Interestingly, the MoMA theatre seats are not quite as plush and sinkable-into as you find in the studio screening rooms.  They’re just a wee bit stiff (though very comfortable, don’t get me wrong), so you’re not as likely to slumber off once the lights go down.
In the lobby of MoMA for cocktails
Before the lights dimmed we were introduced in lineup to those individuals who have had a big hand in bringing this series to us. Then David Chase took the podium and thanked everyone who participated, singling out first his wife Denise who always told him during his years of struggle to succeed: “you always come up with something….” to Brad Grey who in his previous capacity as an important agent-manager never gave up on the idea. The “never gave up” is an old show business story but one of the most alluring ones to any and all who dream of that celestial lottery of success.

Tom Freston
However he demonstrates it privately, David Chase publicly wears his creative achievements with a matter-of-fact modesty that is in short supply in his or any other successful business. One had the feeling, listening to him last night, that “The Sopranos” towering success was due to the outstanding work of many many individuals all the way from the writers to the production executive to people on the sets, right down to those like Peggy Siegal who have worked so hard to promote it year after year.

The Show. Last year’s first two episodes were the first I ever saw of “The Sopranos,” and this year’s were the third and fourth, and very likely the last I’ll see of it. Even to a newcomer like me it is easy to see why it’s been such an enormous success and influence on television (and film) drama. Everything about it is first rate in terms of writing, production and acting. Besides its moments of parody, of satire, it amplifies (to this viewer anyway) everything that is terrifying about modern culture and the human condition.

There was often laughter in the room last night at the dialogue or behavior of the characters, but it was laughter borne out of anxiety, fear, and even loathing. It’s easy to laugh at murderous jerks if you’re not personally threatened by them. But I can’t stand violence on the screen any more than I can bear reading this morning’s New York Times about how children are used as decoys in car bombing in Iraq. I’m one of those squeamish types who doesn’t comprehend how people are able to endlessly accommodate this darkening of the human spirit, as if it’s not related to their own lives. Maybe I’m a pollyana, maybe I’m Chicken Little but the onslaught of violent behavior in our world is, in my opinion, the living end and it does not bode well for any and all of us living creatures on this finite planet.

That said, if you love “The Sopranos,” you will continue to love these final episodes of this brilliant HBO series. But no matter what you think, it’s not “just a movie.” It’s the writing on the wall.
Martin O'Connor, Jane Sarkin, Pegy Siegal, and Terry George
Morley and Jane Safer
Glenn Close
Duff and Frank DiGiacomo

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