Not Fade Away, which opens this Friday, tells the story of a group of teenagers in 1960s New Jersey, who see the Rolling Stones performing on television, and are inspired to start a band. The film follows their journey through the tumultuous 1960s as the boys in the band learn about love, life, sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. The film, full of nods to 1960s cultural touchstones from South Pacific to Antonioni’s Blow Up, stars relative newcomers John Magaro as Douglas, (the soul of the fictional band at the center of the film) and Bella Heathcote along with an ensemble including James Gandolfini, Jack Huston, Lisa Lampanelli, Brad Garrett, and Christopher MacDonald. The film is written, directed, and produced by Sopranos creator David Chase, marking his feature film debut. He has been writing, shooting, and editing the film for almost four years, essentially ever since the last episode of The Sopranos aired.
Creating a show like The Sopranos , which enjoyed such commercial and critical success, has brought Chase public scrutiny, especially in an age where being a television creator makes you a public figure. As a result, Chase says he tries with some success “really really hard to leave the public out of my creative thoughts.” Internally, the impact of such success is harder to escape. “It makes it very difficult to be satisfied as new work comes into your head. You begin to worry more about making a misstep. You don’t feel like I’m the guy who created The Sopranos so I can do no wrong. It actually amps up the self-scrutiny,” Chase says, noting, though, that at times reminding himself of his pedigree can help him get over frustrations or holdups in his creative process.
Although it stars James Gandolfini and is set in New Jersey, Not Fade Away and The Sopranos share little else. For starters, the majority of the film features the fictional band playing, rehearsing, and recording music, mostly covers of Stones, Buddy Holly, and Kinks songs. To help capture the look, sound, and feel of making music in the ’60s, Chase brought in Sopranos star and E-Street Band member Steve Van Zandt, who served as a musical adviser, writing an original song and finding actual ’60s musical instruments and equipment, which were used for filming.
Chase says he can’t see himself doing another weekly television series, although he won’t rule out returning to the medium in some form, but he does want to continue making features. In his absence from weekly television, two of his former writers on The Sopranos, Terence Winter and Matthew Weiner, have picked up the mantle with Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men , respectively. “Both of those shows are really powerful, and each is very much the child of the father,” says Chase. If you believe that we are living in a golden age of television, you likely agree that Chase was one of its pioneers, and he’s excited about the current landscape, commenting that there’s better television “being offered today than there was 15 years ago.”
Coincidentally, Not Fade Away comes ashore at the same time as this season’s British Invasion renaissance, which has seen the Rolling Stones’ 50th Anniversary festivities, The Who’s first tour in five years, and last week’s Sandy Relief Concert, where the Stones and the Who were joined by Paul McCartney and Roger Waters as headliners. All these bands are still drawing crowds, in many cases, bigger than ever before, and it’s very much on Chase’s mind. “I’ve always had an abiding love for the music of this time period,” says Chase.
The film also addresses how Chase and his peers felt growing up under the specter of the nuclear threat. Chase recalls the odd feeling of dissonance between the nuclear threat and the spirit of rock was epitomized by another ’60s staple, The Twilight Zone. “That strange irony and hallucinatory quality of The Twilight Zone was like nothing I’d ever seen. It was almost literary,” says Chase, adding that the show had a profound impact on him. The impact can certainly be felt watching Not Fade Away, which features actual Twilight Zone clips throughout as well as scenes which bring The Twilight Zone to mind. “You know that line from ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ ‘The ancient empty streets too dead for dreaming,’” Chase says. “I think about that all the time. I remember thinking about that at 4 in the morning as a kid coming home, with no place to go to, that’s what I was thinking when I wrote those scenes and shot this.”