After ‘The Sopranos,’ a bigger screen for Chase

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NEW YORK (AP) - After “The Sopranos” went black, David Chase’s next move was never in question: He would make a movie.

In all Chase’s time toiling as a writer in television before “The Sopranos” _ decades ranging from “The Rockford Files” to “Northern Exposure” _ the big screen had beckoned. It reached back to his days as a teenager taking stills of “8 1/2” and “Dr. Strangelove” (clear touchstones, still: one, Italian and surreal; the other, darkly comic).

After his first stab at writing a psychological thriller went begging, he turned to an idea of his since the `80s, one he occasionally kicked around in the “Sopranos” writers room.

“I love rock `n’ roll so much that I really wanted to make a movie about the music, not about the personalities involved, not about the ups and downs or the rise and fall of it,” says Chase. “I didn’t want to do a biopic. If it was going to be a biopic, I wanted to do a biopic about nobodies _ which is what it kind of is.”

“Not Fade Away,” which Paramount Pictures will open in limited release Friday, is Chase’s first project since “The Sopranos” remade American pop culture and, among other things, forever changed our relationship to Journey. A coming-of-age tale set amid the generational tumult of the `60s, it’s the debut of the most promising 67-year-old filmmaker to come along in some time.

In a recent interview at Paramount’s New York offices, Chase’s steady demeanor is belied by a romanticism that comes through in his work and his frankness. Though many viewers reveled in the week-to-week whacking of “The Sopranos,” Chase summarizes the show (and its infamous ending) as about the fleeting moments of tenderness in an otherwise cold world.

“All I wanted to do was present the idea of how short life is and how precious it is,” he says. “The only way I felt I could do that was to rip it away.”

Fans of “The Sopranos” will be pleased to find that “Not Fade Away,” while a clear departure, bears Chase’s distinctive storytelling: its swirl of family dynamics, pop culture and psychology. And New Jersey: The film is set in the suburbs of the state Chase grew up in and where “The Sopranos” made its home.

It’s a slightly autobiographical story about a drummer (newcomer John Magaro) in a garage band with outsized ambitions of becoming the next Rolling Stones. Much of the drama comes in the strife between an afro-ed son and his working class family (James Gandolfini, who of course played Tony Soprano, is the disapproving father).

Unlike many `60s period films, the decade’s historical events are a backdrop, not the foreground.

Steve Van Zandt, another “Sopranos” veteran, served as a producer and musical supervisor on “Not Fade Away,” calls that approach “extremely accurate.” The E Street Band guitarist took the young actors of the film through a virtual rock `n’ roll boot camp, guiding them to sound like a genuine garage band.

“Yeah there was the civil rights thing going on; there was the women’s rights thing going on; there was this thing called Vietnam going on,” says Van Zandt. “Cities were burning to the ground. And we were like: `Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just get me to band rehearsal and let’s figure out the chords to this new Yardbirds song.’”

Whereas “The Sopranos” orbited around the mother-son relationship of Tony and his mother, “Not Fade Away” is centered on the father and son.

“My mother had very little capability for compassion or empathy,” says Chase. “My father had that, but he was from his generation. He was a tough guy.”

Chase eagerly fled his parents when he, at 22, moved to California with his high-school sweetheart and future wife, Denise, to attend film school. Afterward, he wrote scripts on spec and for studio assignments with Columbia and Universal while working in TV. He got close to having one made by Ridley Scott and another with Michael Mann.

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