Gandolfini Tribute

Guest Blogger: Leonard Pierce, author of If You Like the Sopranos…pens a tribute to the great actor James Gandolfini.

Dealing with the death of famous people is an emotionally thorny proposition.  No matter how much you might have cared for their work, you didn’t really know them, and it seems almost intrusive to mourn them the way you would a friend or a family member.  And, of course, death comes for us all, and most celebrities led perfectly comfortable lives, and most celebrities led perfectly comfortable lives and accomplished a great deal before their numbers were called, so it seems a little impertinent to call it a tragedy, or even a loss, when someone with an extensive body of work becomes an extensive body of work…

Then again, is it our fault that we live in a highly mediated age, or that we sometimes succumb to the relentless attempts by publicists and marketers to make some distant, faraway creative force seem like a part of our everyday life?  Are we really to blame if we accept the fact that in a fragmented world where we spend half our lives struggling to live through the other half, we occasionally embrace the removed idea of a person the way we do a real person, that we take the loss of a life that we have voluntarily made a part of our world as the same brunt blow we would a family member we never see, or a friend we barely remember?

Worse, too, when that death truly does come too soon.  We all dig our own graves today, but until the first scold whose idea of a good time is to shake their head in manufactured sadness at the habits that are going to kill everybody but them turns out to be immortal, we’re all digging to the same depth, if not at the same rate. Far too soon, we have been asked to cope with the heart attack death of James Gandolfini, the powerful actor most widely known for his role as conflicted mob boss Tony Soprano.  His death was an injury; for it to come so close to his birthday – he would have been just 52 today if he’d lived — is like a kick down a flight of stairs.

Gandolfini seemed like an unlikely figure to make it as an A-list actor, let alone to set off a revolutionary period in the medium of television.  His hulking frame, meaty visage, and thick accent seemed destined to mark him as a perennial character player, the filler of bit parts in the credit reel.  But when David Chase picked him to play the lead role in The Sopranos for HBO, he became the focal point not only of one of the finest crime dramas ever produced, but of a new era of TV drama that has already been detailed extensively in the plentiful eulogies of the last few months.  Once his career got rolling, Gandolfini didn’t shy away from playing heavies — a task for which he was both physically and psychically inclined — but he never allowed himself to be typecast.  He kept his eye open for work that was rewarding and interesting, and which demanded of him that he slip ever so slightly out of his comfort zone; it was surprising when he turned up as the hard-headed but war-averse General Miller in Armando Ianucci’s savage political satire In the Loop, but it was downright shocking when he showed up in Spike Jonze’s adaptation of the beloved children’s story Where the Wild Things Are.  What was no surprise, to those who had followed his career closely, was how well he acquitted himself in both roles. There were low points in his filmography, to be sure, but more than a reliable actor, he avoided the clay-foot syndrome that struck so many of his Sopranos cast members, becoming by most accounts a decent fellow, a supporter of independent film and breast cancer charities, and an advocate of respectful treatment of injured and PSTD-stricken veterans.  I never met Gandolfini, but I wrote a book about the show that made him famous, and that seems enough to feel his death personally.

Perhaps what makes us feel particular deaths so heavily is that on some level, however arbitrarily, we feel a special connection to these people:  we share their age, their build, their habits and hobbies, their enthusiasms and aesthetics, even above how much we feel transformed by their work.  Whatever the case, in their death, there is, as Dr. Melfi phrased it on The Sopranos, “pain and truth”, and we feel a deeper loss for it.  Happy birthday, Mr. Gandolfini, and rest in peace.

If You Like the Sopranos…

The best-loved crime family in America is just part of a grand tradition of mob movies, gangster flicks, great television dramas, and a sensibility that is part Sicily and part New Jersey.

If You Like the Sopranos… is the first book that starts with Tony and the gang in their humble homes in the Garden State and explores the astonishing amount of great films, TV shows, and other pop-culture wonders that any fan of the Sopranos will love. From The Godfather and Bonnie and Clyde to The Wire, to lesser-known noirs, Jimmy Cagney classics, contemporary HBO dramas, Martin Scorsese’s best work, and even the rock’n’roll that inspired the classic Sopranos soundtrack, this is the one book that every fan needs if he or she ever has to go on the lam.

Get Shorty and Mob Meta-Movies

This week, we said goodbye to actor James Gandolfini. His talents will continue to be appreciated in roles in The Sopranos and films like Get Shorty. The following is an excerpt from If You Like The Sopranos… by Leonard Pierce.

When Elmore Leonard penned the comic crime novel Get Shorty in 1990, the idea that the mob had become a self-aware entity was well established. Presaging the way the characters in The Sopranos would endlessly watch GoodFellas and The Godfather, the Mafiosi of the 1970s and 1980s fussed over their depiction in popular culture, and Gambino family boss John Gotti, with his expensive suits and fancy cars, developed a reputation as the first godfather of the media age. But when the film version of Get Shorty was released in 1995, it represented something new: it wasn’t just a mob movie, but a mob meta-movie; not only were the characters aware of their status in pop culture, but the movie was specifically made as a movie aware of the tropes of the gangster picture and willing to have a little fun with them. Rarely had so many disparate elements come together to present an image of the crime film that goofed around with what it had been—and hinted at what it would become.

Get Shorty tells the tale of a Miami loan shark named Chili Palmer (breezily portrayed by John Travolta in high post–Pulp Fiction spirits) who, on his way to collect a debt in Las Vegas, is sidetracked into chasing down a dissolute Hollywood producer. Chili, a film buff whose media self-awareness both predates and outstrips Christopher Moltisanti’s, decides that while he’s got the producer in the palm of his hand, he’ll pitch his own idea for a movie—one based on his own life story. Surprisingly, the producer bites; even more surprisingly, it sets off a bidding war with another loan shark, the menacing Bo Catlett (the always excellent Delroy Lindo). Complications ensue.

On the way to its conclusion—which gives plenty a knowing wink to fans of meta-movies—what makes Get Shorty so enjoyable is how deftly it handles both the action and thrills of a crime drama and the punchy, unexpected rhythms of a comedy. Much of this is due to its excellent cast and crew. Director Barry Sonnenfeld, before he moved on to big-time blockbusters, had been the cinematographer for the Coen brothers and learned a few things from them about blending comedy and crime. Travolta and Lindo are joined by a great supporting cast, including the consummately pro fessional Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito in the title role, and Dennis Farina as Palmer’s rival. Catlett’s partner Bear, who plays a key role in the film’s denouement, is played by none other than James Gandolfini, four years before his debut as Tony Soprano.

Crime comedies, and mob comedies in particular, tend to be a pretty dreary lot, but Sonnenfeld and his crew, given such a prime piece of source material, turn in a lively, entertaining example of how to do it right. Elmore Leonard is perfect for this sort of project. (And note that in 2010, the FX crime drama Justified—based on a Leonard short story and starring Deadwood veteran Timothy Olyphant, and strongly influenced by The Sopranos’ serial narrative revolution—debuted to universal praise.)

If You Like The Sopranos… is the first book that starts with Tony and the gang in their humble homes in the Garden State and explores the astonishing amount of great films, TV shows, and other pop-culture wonders that any fan of the Sopranos will love. From The Godfather andBonnie and Clyde to The Wire, to lesser-known noirs, Jimmy Cagney classics, contemporary HBO dramas, Martin Scorsese’s best work, and even the rock’n’roll that inspired the classicSopranos soundtrack, this is the one book that every fan needs if he or she ever has to go on the lam.

Leonard Pierce, an interview

Onstage and Backstage podcast from Hal Leonard is available on iTunes and Libsyn. Each episode authors and their guests have a chat about the topics of their books. Today, to celebrate the birthday of James Gandolfini, who plays Tony Soprano, we’re highlighting our podcast episode with Leonard Pierce, author of If You Like the Sopranos…, chatting with Scott Von Doviak, author of If You Like The Terminator…

>>>LISTEN HERE<<<

If You Like the Sopranos… by Leonard Pierce is the first book that starts with Tony and the gang in their humble homes in the Garden State and explores the astonishing amount of great films, TV shows, and other pop-culture wonders that any fan of the Sopranos will love. From The Godfather andBonnie and Clyde to The Wire, to lesser-known noirs, Jimmy Cagney classics, contemporary HBO dramas, Martin Scorsese’s best work, and even the rock’n’roll that inspired the classicSopranos soundtrack, this is the one book that every fan needs if he or she ever has to go on the lam.

The Terminator and The Sopranos, interviews

Onstage and Backstage podcast from Hal Leonard is available on iTunes and Libsyn. Each episode authors and their guests have a chat about the topics of their books. Today, we have two interviews with fellow If You Like authors Scott Von Doviak (If You Like The Terminator…) and Leonard Pierce (If You Like The Sopranos…) about their books.

If You Like The Sopranos…
>>>LISTEN HERE<<<

If You Like The Terminator… 
>>>LISTEN HERE<<<

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About the Books

Here is the first book to explore the spectacular array of films, television shows, and other works that helped inspire The Terminator, as well as those that have drawn inspiration from it. If You Like The Terminator… delves into the history of science-fiction cinema, from its earliest days to the golden age of the 1950s and beyond, encountering killer robots, time travelers and postapocalyptic wastelands along the way. This turbo-charged journey through time also reviews the improbable career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, revisits the action heroes of the 1980s, and reevaluates the films of James Cameron, before touching down in the computer-dominated realm of today’s science fiction cinema and projecting the future of the Terminatorfranchise.

If You Like the Sopranos… is the first book that starts with Tony and the gang in their humble homes in the Garden State and explores the astonishing amount of great films, TV shows, and other pop-culture wonders that any fan of the Sopranos will love. From The Godfather andBonnie and Clyde to The Wire, to lesser-known noirs, Jimmy Cagney classics, contemporary HBO dramas, Martin Scorsese’s best work, and even the rock’n’roll that inspired the classicSopranos soundtrack, this is the one book that every fan needs if he or she ever has to go on the lam.

Q & A with Leonard Pierce

Leonard Pierce, author of If You Like The Sopranos… (Limelight Editions) answers questions from Kirkus Reviews:

Kirkus: The idea behind the If You Like… series fascinates me. These books are basically trying to beat the Web at its own game of recommending related content—taking that function away from the algorithms and putting it back in the hands of human curators.

Leonard: I’d say that’s fair, and I think that human curators, as you put it, will always be superior to a computer algorithm, because a computer can only sort and prioritize various points of data: a film’s director, say, or genre, or an aggregate of critical ratings. It can’t capture the most essential elements of criticism, which are passion and value. A piece of art appeals to us is because it triggers our passions, our emotions, our deepest fears and desires. A computer can tell you what elements are present in a story, but it can’t tell you why White Heat might be more likely to appeal to a fan of The Sopranos than, say, Mildred Pierce, because it only knows the similarity of the elements of those films, not the emotional triggers that made them what they are….

Keep Reading on Kirkus Reviews…

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If You Like The Sopranos… is the first book that starts with Tony and the gang in their humble homes in the Garden State and explores the astonishing amount of great films, TV shows, and other pop-culture wonders that any fan of the Sopranos will love. From The Godfather andBonnie and Clyde to The Wire, to lesser-known noirs, Jimmy Cagney classics, contemporary HBO dramas, Martin Scorsese’s best work, and even the rock’n’roll that inspired the classicSopranos soundtrack, this is the one book that every fan needs if he or she ever has to go on the lam.

Available now from Limelight Editions | Amazon | BN.com

Book Signings 2011-2012:
Barnes and Noble in Denton, TX (Golden Triangle location) on Dec. 10 at 3pm
Barnes and Noble in Austin, TX (Arboretum location) on January 28 from 2-4pm
Book People in Austin, TX on Feb. 18 at 7pm

 

The Sopranos As A Product of Its Time

Guest Blogger: Leonard Pierce, author of If You Like The Sopranos…

Creator David Chase had the foresight and the good luck to set his story of a mobster facing tumult from both his crime family and his biological family at a time when the real-world Mafia was in a similar state of turmoil.  He pioneered the prime-time serial drama at a time when the public was ready for it.  And, uniquely, he was in charge of a critically acclaimed and widely popular television show that bridged the pre- and post-9/11 eras.

In a 24-hour media cycle, where viewers are overwhelmed with entertainment choices and cultural trends come and go in an eye-blink, 2007 seems like ages ago.  Regardless of its greatness, how much can a show that started in the 1990s still have to teach us?  A great deal, it seems.  Serial storytelling is the new normal for television dramas, and crime shows like Breaking Bad, Justified, Dexter, Sons of Anarchy and Boardwalk Empire are critical and commercial favorites.  At the box office, noir-influenced dramas like Drive and the Robert De Niro crime thriller Killer Elite draw audiences, and on video game consoles, L.A. Noire and the Saints Row series pull in gamers by the millions.  It’s clear that the Century of Crime has only expanded since The Sopranos came to an end.

But it was more than just good timing that made The Sopranos such a cultural keystone.  Its genius was to take the ideas, themes, and tropes of crime drama from past decades and amalgamate them into a riveting entertainment that pointed the way forward to a new world both strange and familiar.  It placed an entire world of crime stories into a crystal ball; my book tries to pluck those stories out one by one and show how they informed The Sopranos.  I hope you’ll join me.

Book Signings 2011-2012:
Barnes and Noble in San Antonio, TX (15900 La Cantera Parkway) on December 2nd at 7pm.
Barnes and Noble in Denton, TX (Golden Triangle location) on Dec. 10 at 3pm
Barnes and Noble in Austin, TX (Arboretum location) on January 28 from 2-4pm
Book People in Austin, TX on Feb. 18 at 7pm

If You Like The Sopranos…Here Are Over 150 Movies, TV Shows, and Other Oddities That You Will Love

If You Love the Sopranos… is the first book that starts with Tony and the gang in their humble homes in the Garden State and explores the astonishing amount of great films, TV shows, and other pop-culture wonders that any fan of the Sopranos will love. From The Godfather and Bonnie and Clyde to The Wire, to lesser-known noirs, Jimmy Cagney classics, contemporary HBO dramas, Martin Scorsese’s best work, and even the rock’n’roll that inspired the classic Sopranos soundtrack, this is the one book that every fan needs if he or she ever has to go on the lam. Available for purchase here.