Review: 'Not Fade Away' a gem with an artful 1960s rock soundtrack
BY MICHAEL SMITH World Scene Writer
Friday, January 04, 2013
1/04/13 at 4:51 AM
There's something about "Not Fade Away," writer-director David Chase's cinematic ode to the British Invasion and the pop music of the 1960s, that smacks of a vanity project because this niche film might never get made otherwise.
But if Paramount partnered with the creator of "The Sopranos" on this low-budget slice-of-life drama full of unknown but talented young stars, and a soundtrack of fantastic songs, in the hopes that Chase will next make them a "Sopranos"-like crime drama hit, then those of us who recall fondly this era are the beneficiaries of this little gem.
‘NOT FADE AWAY’
John Magaro, Jack Huston,
Bella Heathcote, James Gandolfini
AMC Southroads 20
1 hour, 52 minutes
R (pervasive language,
some drug use and sexual
(on a scale of zero
to four stars)
Although Chase toyed with the idea of forming a band in his own high school years, the story of "Not Fade Away" is far from autobiographical outside of the film's prevalent theme: the pure, transformative power of rock 'n' roll on young people.
Chase spins some of the music that changed his life and the way that he thought about the world throughout the film, and he seems to be making a statement that rock 'n' roll and teens are a lot alike in that whenever society is prepared to declare either of them as having little remaining relevance, it turns out to be a mistake to have written them off.
John Magaro is the breakout talent here as a teen whom we see viewing the Rolling Stones' first performance on American television and being forever changed by the experience. He is soon playing the drums, forming a band and becoming the lead singer, dressing and brooding a lot like Bob Dylan as his musical education continues.
Magaro benefits from his character, Douglas, being the one to have dual relationships explored. There's his place in the band - made up of classmates, longtime pals and rivals for girls' affections - and his connection to his old-school father (James Gandolfini, Tony Soprano himself), who brings both authenticity and complexity to what could have been a stock character as the dad who just doesn't understand this younger generation.
Jack Huston, as a hot-headed bandmate, and Bella Heathcote, as Douglas' hard-won girlfriend with her own big-city aspirations, are both excellent at breathing life into Chase's script, which specializes in intimate, personal conversations about chasing dreams and the tumultuous times in which they are living.
Chase doesn't offer revelations beyond love-live-rock 'n' roll, but he beautifully captures this period of the mid-1960s, in something of the same way in which George Lucas framed 1962 as a moment in time in "American Graffiti."
Where Chase truly succeeds with his script comes as time progresses and the characters move closer to the "summer of love" and other seminal moments of the decade. He does not fall into the trap so many before him have by choosing one character to go to Vietnam, another to take part in college protests and another to take part in civil rights marches, a composite illustration of the times that always feels false.
Rather, we feel the effects of these changes happening around the characters, influencing their mindsets and the music that guides their journey.
The songs will be the star for the boomer generation watching "Not Fade Away," hearing tunes they haven't heard in years.
Remember how important music was in making "The Sopranos," and some of the songs that Chase and company introduced to a new audience? The filmmaker employs Steven Van Zandt, "Sopranos" actor and E Street Band guitarist, as his "Not Fade Away" executive producer/musical consultant.
The result is a soundtrack to an era that reminds us that, much like not every late-1960s teen went to Woodstock, the Rolling Stones released great songs that are not on their greatest-hits compilations.
It's "Tell Me" by the Stones, "I Ain't Gonna Eat My Heart Out" by the Young Rascals and "She Belongs to Me" by Bob Dylan, early works by seminal artists that portend their futures - much like the movie does for the young people depicted.
Original Print Headline: Film is love letter to rock 'n' roll's heyday
Michael Smith 918-581-8479
John Magaro stars as the musical focus of "Not Fade Away," writer-director David Chase's attempt to capture the spirit of the mid-1960s. BARRY WETCHER/ Paramount