Not Fade Away (US - BD RA)
Jonathan looks at the first feature film from the creator of The Sopranos...
From David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, comes a story about discovering your passions, following your dreams and finding yourself. It's the 1960's and Rock and Roll is changing the world. Inspired by a bold new era and his success in a local band, Douglas (John Magaro) drops out of college to pursue his musical dreams, only to discover the harsh realities of the music industry. Douglas is forced to choose between listening to his father (James Gandolfini) or listening to his heart. (From the Paramount synopsis)
Compared to the massive scope and success of The Sopranos, David Chase's first foray into feature films feels like a humble first effort. That may be because he's going back into his own past. Chase spent much of his youth in New Jersey playing in a band and hoping to make it big in the 1960's. This is essentially the story of Not Fade Away, and while Chase explicitly says that it is not an autobiography, there's no denying that his youth is a driving inspiration for the lead character of Douglas. One can't help but wonder what is fact and fiction when it comes down to the details and dialogue choices. The movie opens on a clever note by showing a meeting between a young Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Their names aren't revealed, but the narrator tells us they went on to become The Rolling Stones. We're then introduced to the wildly less cool Douglas (John Magaro) and Wells (Will Brill) as they awkwardly ogle some music equipment through a store window and exchange sentences laced with f-bombs in attempts to sound cool. It becomes abundantly clear that we're not dealing with another Rolling Stones here.
On paper, Not Fade Away isn't much more than a coming of age story about kids who want to be in a band during the 1960s. If that sounds loaded with cliches, that's because it is. On the surface there isn't much that separates the story from your run of the mill, battle of the bands type kids movie (aside from some profanity of course). But Not Fade Away feels like it is in search of something deeper. Chase is out looking to capture the spirit not just of the time period, but what it is like to be in that awkward stage of youth where you haven't figured out who you are. In that vulnerable state of naivety, its easy to try and imitate an aspect of popular culture. Especially one with as much identity and personality as the British Invasion. I respect Chase for what he is trying to capture here, but in his efforts he encounters some unfortunate side effects. For one, the story often feels very directionless. There's subplots that go nowhere and things happen to characters that have feel totally pointless. Even the main story revolving around Douglas seems to lose its way in the end.
What makes it worse is that the characters just aren't very interesting. Each band member is given a distinct personality to help us tell them apart, but these traits are never used to help bring us closer to the characters or feel any emotion toward them. The sole exception is James Gandolfini as Douglas's father. You know the character. He's the disappointed father that doesn't understand why his son is dressing differently and listening to loud music. There's nothing shocking or new about this character, but Gandolfini brings a level of craft to the role that towers above everything else in the film and makes the father so easy to feel sympathy for. The way this narrative thread ends feels just right. I wish I felt similarly about the rest of the cast. The young actors do fine, but their roles are so thinly written that I struggled to care for them or the trajectory of their lives. Because the characters aren't very engaging, it becomes hard to care when bad things happen. Minor characters go through traumatic events and I felt absolutely nothing because I knew absolutely nothing about them. It's frustrating to see basics like characters and a story fall by the wayside when Chase is masterful at capturing so many great subtleties.
Even though Not Fade Away failed to excite me or make me feel involved in the lives of its characters, I have a tendency to enjoy any competent coming of age story. Maybe its because I'm still so close to my own youth. I also can't deny my love for the music used in the movie. Stumbles and all, this was still a breezy viewing experience and there are enough great little moments to recommend it to the curious. I think David Chase has some great feature films in him that we'll get to see. He's certainly got the chops. Many television directors work with boring static shots, but he is not afraid to let the camera roam around and bit and gaze at scenery. Whether its a lovely California beach scene or the empty LA streets at night, the atmosphere is wonderfully captured. Its another example of something that David Chase gets so right, and I want to see his skills put to use on better material.
As usual, Paramount delivers top quality in the video department with a great 1080p transfer. The movie was shot on the Arri Alexa, a solid digital camera that maintains some of the personality of film. Usually period films shot on digital just don't look right to me, but I had no problems with the format for Not Fade Away. The movie file is given a generous file size on the BD-50 and it shows, there are little to no compression side effects visible on this transfer. As expected with the Arri Alexa, detail is great. My only concern is the black levels, which look like they are crushing out some detail. This is the only format I've seen this movie in, so I can't attest to the accuracy of the black levels. Its very possible I'm just not fond of how the movie was lit. Check out the fourth screen cap for an example of what I'm talking about. There's just a complete absence of detail in those dark areas of the picture. Colors look great but stray from natural appearance. Filtered color styles are used predictable. Working in the hot outdoors will have a warm look to it giving the whole image a green/yellow push. Cold, icy outdoors will have everything looking blue. Its not very exciting from a stylistic standpoint but the Blu-ray holds up magnificently well and won't disappoint in terms of quality.
This movie is all about the music, so its a relief that the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a keeper. The soundtrack is loaded with blues and rock and roll from the era, including Bo Diddley, James Brown, The Rolling Stones, Lead Belly and even some Sex Pistols. The professional music fills the sound space gloriously and sounds wonderful. When the young band members begin playing live shows the soundtrack sounds appropriate to the environment. From the extras I know the young actors learned how to play music for the movie, but its still nice to hear audio that was recorded on set and not some clean dub that was laid down after the fact. When they play in a basement, it sounds like they're playing in a basement. When they play to an audience on a stage, you get rear channels filled with ambient chatter and reactions. The mix never fails to bring the appropriate atmosphere to life. Scenes of just dialogue are predictably kept to front and center, but they're few and far between in this film. More often than not there is some excellent track playing and keeping the audio channels fantastically alive.
The Basement Tapes (HD, 35:53) is a making-of in three segments: The Boys in the Band, Living in the Sixties, and Hard Art. The first segment begins with some great interview footage with David Chase. He explains that he chose this movie to do first after The Sopranos because it was about music, and his favorite part of making The Sopranos was setting music to the lives of the characters. The actors, including Gandolfini, weigh in on David Chase and his experience with music. We're introduced to all of the young actors. It was amusing to learn to that Jack Huston was too good of a singer and had to purposefully sing worse to fit the movie's plot. There's a lot of great background information here and it makes for a wonderfully detailed behind the scenes feature. I can't think of much more I'd like to know about the film that wasn't covered here.
Next up is Building the Band (HD, 03:06). This is a much shorter featurette about the young actors learning to play music. Its a pleasant enough little segment, but its pretty redundant with information already covered in The Basement Tapes. When some of the actual interview lines are reused it begins to feel a lot like fluff. Last of all is the Deleted Scenes (HD, 05:33), of which there are four in total. One is from very early in the film showing the band members discussing what their band name should be. Highlights include some extended Italian American dinner time dialogue and a scene with Bella Heathcote's character picking up a guitar by herself to fiddle around with.
Not Fade Away never quite feels right. The movie does a wonderful job of capturing a time and place, and there are plenty of clever moments to be found. It is lovingly steeped in 1960's aesthetic and British Invasion music. But the overly familiar story and the characters that inhabit it just aren't interesting enough. I found myself wanting to switch it off and get lost in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous instead. There are no disappointments to report in terms of audio and video quality. Extras are light but there is a behind the scenes feature that is very worthwhile.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 30th April 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, English Audio Description
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: The Basement Tapes, Building the Band, Deleted Scenes, Ultraviolet Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: David Chase
Cast: John Magaro, Jack Huston, Will Brill
Length: 112 minutes
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