It’s an industry that is renowned for drawing crowds: from small villages needed on movie sets, to thousands hunting through film festival markets to barter over the next big release, to the close confines of the press on the red carpet at the Palais or eager crowds piling onto the Lido in Venice. The motion picture industry is based on the collective power of people, hinging most importantly on those who sit in a darkened room, sharing a collective experience. It’s not the only industry facing trouble at the moment, but the entertainment industry is doing its part through a variety of mediums to keep the public engaged and entertained in this age of restricted movements now that the cameras have stopped rolling.
1. TALKING SOPRANOS PODCAST
Only a few weeks ago I finished The Sopranos, a wave of emptiness fills you on remembering that the show concluded in 2007. The only real sense of closure is the comfort of the upcoming prequel, The Many Saints of Newark (the name derived from Christopher Motisanti’s name meaning “Many Saints,”) set to be released next year. Endless podcasts having sprung up in the interim which have sponged off the series, dissecting the episodes with commentators of little remarkability – just because you have a recording device doesn’t necessarily mean you should make a podcast. What did catch my attention recently was a brand new podcast called Taking Sopranos, hosted by Michael Imperioli, the actor who played Tony’s intensely loyal but incessantly unstable nephew Christopher and Steve Schirripa, the lovable gentle giant and unlikely Captain, Bobby.
Each installment is named after an episode of the Sopranos and the aim of the pod is to dissect each episode in chronological order. Both have settled into their roles as commentators quite well, not least because they bring a wealth of behind the scenes context to each episode, but because they genuinely remind you of their characters. It truly is like having Christopher and Bobby yapping away in your ear, shooting the breeze in their Jersey twang. It’s a podcast for both die-hards and those just interested in digging a bit deeper. There’s a degree of scepticism around in depth analyses of long-form television that doesn’t extend to film in the same way. Since the forties, every second of the 119 minute run time of Citizen Kane has been deconstructed to within an inch of its life, and yet when the same is applied to television it’s viewed as being a lesser medium. The Sopranos is regularly hailed as delivering 50 minute films rather than episodes, and this in-depth analysis is welcome. Nuggets of information such as the string of directors who were at its helm to the infamous song choices that would inexplicably sum up episodes.
Ironically the dynamic is flipped on its head as Imperioli is the more level-headed of the two, while Schirripa’s booming presence is more likely to fly off the handle and go off script. In the last episode, Imperioli couldn’t stop his co-host from sharing his distaste for fellow mobster Robert De Niro, ‘Bob won’t say hi without a script in his hand,’ Schirripa quipped, while Imperioli respectfully balanced it out by noting that De Niro was quite nice to him during Goodfellas. And they don’t come across as entitled actors, they repeatedly reiterate their appreciation for their place in TV history. Imperioli in particular is well able to dissect each episode, drilling down the meaning and linking it with character development, skills that came to him from his time working as a writer on the show in later seasons. If there’s a Sopranos void in your life, these two can fill it and from the first five episodes they’ve earned the right to make something of this, resurrecting this adored show and exploring it in a new way.
2. STAY AT HOME CINEMA SERIES – TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Of the numerous film festivals out of pocket thanks to the pandemic, TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) which is scheduled for September appears to be playing a blinder with audience engagement. Its Stay at Home Cinema series has been hugely successful to date, inviting directors, actors and creatives to Q&A’s before live streaming the film in question. Just this week alone their line up included Guillermo del Toro who introduced his anti-fascist fantasy Pan’s Labryinth, Adam Nayman speaking about The Big Lebowski and Ethan Hawke taking on the first in Linklater’s renowned Before Trilogy, Before Sunrise.
This writer found Hawke’s short 22 minute introduction particularly compelling, recalling how agents had rallied against his wishes to pursue Before Sunrise with the young director Richard Linklater. A theme in Hawke’s recollection is his complete adoration of the film itself, crediting Linklater with successfully creating a film that didn’t rely on espionage or explosions to create drama. That resonated with him because those action movies didn’t reflect how Hawke felt about his own life, ‘you would think that our lives have no drama and that’s not the way I feel about my own life.’
Although the script, which follows two strangers Jesse and Celine who meet on a train in Europe, made for ‘difficult reading’ at first, that promise of cultivating a connection on screen kept him glued to the project. ‘The main character of those films is time,’ Hawke said. ‘It’s this overwhelming force and most movies rely on a narrative but time is the engine for these films.’ He spoke of how even during the making of that first film 25 years ago, there was a distinct awareness of the temporariness of their youth that they wanted to capture. He refers to those films as a ‘life project’ which most other actors don’t carry with them, as they leave their characters behind after a film wraps. But for Hawke and Delphy, there is that urge to return to these characters in intervals of nine years to see how they’re coping with the inexorable force of time. He finds himself going through life stages, finally succumbing to glasses recently after years of being proud of his ‘Hawke eyes’ and he wonders in tandem, what would Jesse think about getting glasses? He ends the Q&A thankful to everyone who has expressed their appreciation for these characters over the years and you can see from the glint in his eye that there is curiosity in Hawke yet, and the double entendre is that it’s in Jesse too.
3. TRIBECA SHORTS – A SHORT FILM A DAY KEEPS THE ANXIETY AWAY
The Tribeca Film Festival was originally scheduled to run from April 15th to the 26th this year, and was one of the first on the circuit to cancel the events and premieres it had planned. While many new works were slated to appear on its bill, the festival has been streaming a short film everyday ‘to keep the anxiety away.’ These films are from festival alumni who debuted their works in the prior years and are being presented to a wider, global audience through the festivals’ website. Works of note include Master Maggie a fantastic short that stars Lorraine Bracco and the late Brian Dennehy which premiered last year with this writer watching it in a small arthouse cinema on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Other shorts include the brief Girlfriend Experience, or Brooklyn Breeze, a visual journey through different parts of Brooklyn. Tribeca’s notorious commercialism has been put on hold as it strives to make short films available across the globe during this time.
The film and entertainment industry is a robust and dynamic force that rests on the insatiable urge that people have to be entertained. Although supply has been stifled on the production side by a restriction of movement, the demand is still there and it is evident that this will return. For now, the industry is pivoting to provide the public with additional content that is temporarily satisfying this need. It’s turning introspective, giving consumers access to creatives who dissect works of art and supplement that void of new content by exhuming the magic of older ones. People have shown their interest in much loved productions through these analyses or their appreciation for new works that have been democratised and made available to an audience that otherwise wouldn’t of attended an international film festival. And that in itself is a new form of entertainment and distribution that will surely grow even when we get out of this blip on the other side.