Written and directed by “The Sopranos” creator David Chase (this being his feature film debut), Not Fade Away is a thoroughly 1960s movie about living in the present, not the past, and not the future. Lead by newcomer John Magaro, the film is about a teenager who wants to start a band, as influenced by the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, among many others. With his band not exactly achieving rock star status, he falls in love with a girl (played by Bella Heathcote), while maturing under the eye of his strict father (James Gandolfini).
Along with creation of the “The Sopranos,” Chase has also worked on various other television shows, including “Northern Exposure,” “I’ll Fly Away,” and “The Rockford Files.” He previously directed the TV movie, “The Rockford Files: Punishment and Crime.”
I sat down with Chase in a roundtable interview to discuss his film, the feelings he has for Los Angeles, what he’d like to explore in a movie about the 70s, and more.
Not Fade Away opens in Chicago on December 28.
What impression of the 1960s did you want to change in your younger audience? Did you have such an audience in mind specifically when you were making this movie?
I was hopeful that there would be a younger audience for it. What impression did I want to give? How can I put this … just that it wasn’t all acid rock concerts, protests … most people did not live that way. Most people lived in their houses in the suburbs, and life went on. They were affected inside their families by different events, but very few people put a flower in the gun of a national guardsmen.
You have experience in directing for television, but not for film. What were some preconceptions about film directing you had that you found were wrong when you got into the film director’s chair with this film?
I think by the time I got to directing Not Fade Away, I knew most of what directing was. Prior to that, I always thought the director was someone who screamed at people, and had a riding crop and wouldn’t listen to any input, and had a vision in his head. But I don’t find it to be that way. I find that the best things that happen, happen by accident. A lot of what the actor brings to it is a miracle. A bird happens to land on a tree, and you don’t cut … I did an episode of “I’ll Fly Away,” and the camera was set across the river from where the action was happening. Some clansmen were gonna beat up a black kid. And it was nighttime. We were across the river shooting it, this muskrat swam right past the camera. it just happened, and it was great. Some people would say, “Get that out of there,” but I kept it. Those kinds of things happen all the time.
How did you settle on “Not Fade Away” for usage as your title for your film, amongst many other possible song titles?
I was originally going to call it “The Twylight Zones,” because that’s the name of the band in the movie. But then we ran into legal problems with that, they said we could use the title, but we couldn’t market it that way. So, we had to go the other way, and I wanted something that was evocative, or dreamlike, I guess. That’s what we came up with. I always thought it was a good title.
Do you have a favorite version of that song?
I like the Rolling Stones’ version. Buddy Holly … Buddy Holly’s different.
The film ‘Blow-Up’ is mentioned in this movie specifically, as something that changes the artistic perspective of the main character. What were some other movies from the era of this film that jazzed you?
That’s when I got introduced to foreign films … all the dead white males – except for Kurosawa, who wasn’t white – Fellini, Bergman, Antonioni, Bunuel. Polanski was one of them. I was a student in New York. I went to a showing of Polanski’s Cul-de-sac and I came out of there and was like, “What the hell was that movie? But boy, it was really cool.” And it occurred to me that movie was not made by a factory. It was the first time it got through to me that it was made by an artist, collaborating with other artists. It wasn’t a product, it was something else. It was the first time I thought to myself, “Maybe that would be a cool thing to be – a filmmaker.” That’s what I’d like to do. I was really interested in being a director of photography at the time.
Was James Gandolfini an automatic choice to play the father character in the story?
He wasn’t. I was having trouble writing the script. I couldn’t picture the father son dynamic. But then I pictured him in it, and it all clicked for me.
What influence did your history with your father have in crafting Gandolfini’s character?
My father was kind of an angry guy. Maybe he was depressive, but he was angry. Not all the time. He was also very generous to me; he would often take my side. But at the same time he hated long hair, and scruffy jackets.
Did you dress like that during that time?
I did. When Gandolfini says, “It looks like you just got off the boat,” that’s what my father told me.
Along with rock ‘n roll, there is also a sentimentality in the film for Los Angeles. What is your own personal relationship with L.A.? Where it is for you now? And what was it like when you first got there?
When I first came to L.A., I was very struck by it; all the lore that was there. It has a very strong vibe, and that goes all the way back to “Dragnet.” It didn’t look like any city that I had ever seen in “Dragnet.” But I loved going to see the old movie studios, and stuff like that. There was the movie studio lore about Los Angeles, and the Raymond Chandler thing that it has. That I really felt really strongly there. At night, it is amazing. It just smells like star jasmine. It gets really cold, cool, and you smell flowers everywhere. When you go to Los Angeles you will see it is very different. It’s like a different country.
What was your own thought behind the ending scene of the film?
The whole movie is about people talking about rock ‘n roll, and wanting to play rock ‘n roll, like inside baseball amongst the characters. But I wanted to just hear from a typical teenager, a typical consumer of rock ‘n roll, a typical dancer, and have that present in the movie.
Considering your history with television, and your inclusion in bringing television towards a more cinematic level with something like “The Sopranos,” where did you think film would be in 20 years from when you first started in the television business? Did you anticipate this melding of cinematic TV?
Yeah, I thought movies were going to continue to be movies, and that television wasn’t anything.
Did it seem like they were their own entities, especially structure wise?
I knew that movies and TV were similar, and I also knew that TV and radio had a lot to do with each other. I had heard, when I was a very little kid, radio dramas, but TV and movies had nothing to do with each other.
Did that surprise you as well? That TV started to look like movies?
It did surprise me, yeah. The technology had to change for that to happen. And now you have movie directors doing TV. It’s all changed.
Do you have any plans for your next project?
I am supposed to do a project for HBO next, a miniseries. I’d like to do a movie, but I haven’t picked a topic yet. I worked on this story that I had in my head for twenty years, and this summer I wrote it, and it turns out someone has just made that movie, and it will be coming out in October. The concept is the same. So, I have to start all over. I was nursing Fun Size (laughs).
If you were to make a movie about the 1970s, what would be some components you’d want to express abut that era? Either from your own perspective, or vinyl collection.
The idea that pops in my head is when the original spirit of the kind of rock ‘n roll in this movie came back, which is with the Pretenders and Elvis Costello, and Sex Pistols. Clearing away all the other stuff, which doesn’t mean I don’t have respect for disco or art or anything like that. But they made that movie, Velvet Goldmine. I’d want do the scruffier end of it. That was a really great musical era.