Jul 14, 2013

James Gandolfini, More than an Actor

I  lost a Twitter follower yesterday after tweeting a link to this article:

Still Remembering James Gandolfini

Actually I made two tweets; a quick follow up tweet elaborating a bit (a "tiny bit" to be exact) regarding my personal feelings of loss over actor,/producer, humanitarian James Gandolfini who died last month at age 51.

The trouble with tweeting is that it is very difficult to convey anything of substance using 140 characters or less.

In this case, an article that I'd found about someone else's lingering sense of sadness and loss over Gandolfini's death, was at the core of my message sent out to the world in a bottle/tweet. Once I tweeted the link to the article, naturally I'd used up all of my characters and thus,necessitating the second tweet.

It seems that a great many people are still grieving the loss of James Gandolfini in the way that we typically grieve over someone that we knew,  not simply a great actor, even one that played a so called iconic role.

This particular writer captured so well that her mourning period was far exceeding what our society deems appropriate or necessary, and she dove into those feelings, exploring them; who the man behind the actor was, and what her and so many other people's attraction and affection for the man was all about.

Before reading the article I'd already noted a prolonged and profound en masse sense of loss over Mr Gandolfini, this man that was far more than an actor. For all kinds of reasons, he resonated with a lot of people - mostly"'everyday" people' like me.

If losing this twitter follower wasn't merely a strangely timed coincidence, my best guess is that the follower didn't like the sometimes misogynistic and/ or violent characters that James Gandolfini inhabited so well (such as Tony Soprano and Virgil in True Romance), and thus my pronounced admiration for him, turned them off.

Perhaps, this person like so many other people, were confusing the real man with his work particularly his best known character, Tony Soprano,( albeit reflexively)

Maybe they didn't like that he inhabited the role so well, or at all for that matter. I'll never know and it doesn't really matter.

Unfortunately, Tony Soprano was the larger than life quintessential  role that most people identify and even confuse James Gandolfini with. But there was so much more to this man's body of work as far as an actor, and producer.

The last three are inexorably linked, as Gandolfini produced several projects that were apparently very close to his heart, and  each one was unbelievably well done, eye opening and heart wrenching.

In the years following the Sopranos he seemed to relax and become more of who he really was or wanted to be, He churned out two documentaries about United States War Veterans One centered on Vets from Iraq and Afghanistan,telling their poignant very real stories  life and death experiences
that ended with more struggle upon their return home acclimating to civilian life after living through hellish ordeals that left many of them with severe life changing injuries, such as lost limbs,  Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, to nam a few.

Your second documentary focused upon PTSD and veterans of war all the way from WW2 through Korean War Vietnam Desert storm and present day Iraq and Afghanistan.

PTSD  is a  condition that many victims of crime experience and it was much less understood until the IRAQ war, although the military and our government have a long way to go.

It is a serious physical and psychological disorder that is still not given the attention and investment that is necessary by the Government or our Military.

It is  a veritable epidemic with American Vets returning frm Iraq and Afghanistan.

PTSD causes emotional and physical pain and suffering that can lead to addictions, homelessness and suicide if it is not treated vigorously and with compassion and care. The Vietnam war produced the largest amount of veterans suffering from PTSD.

Sadly at that time so much less was understood about what was formerly called "soldiers disease" this resulted in most Vietnam Vets receiving little to no treatment for some of the most severe Post Trauma experienced in any American war. The nature of the jungle warfare, Vietcong tactics of booby traps

Gandofini's other documentary centered around interviews with veterans from world war two to Vietnam and Korea through present day Iraq and Afghanistan. He was merely an observer or interviewer at times in the docu-dramas seemingly taking care to keep the attention on the soldiers not himself.

I read that Gandolfini's father, an Italian immigrant served in world war two and won a purple heart while in action. Perhaps this was part of his motivation for these projects, however it was his compassion, admiration and respect for these young soldiers and their experiences that seemed to propel him..

Jim Gandolfini played a succession of flawed characters, and clearly brought his own flaws into the fray. And despite his increasing fame largely brought about by the iconic Soprano role, this man retained a genuine humility about himself that was yet another thing that made you want to know him, or somebody just like him.

Its clear that this was a very special man; He was kind, compassionate, intelligent and inquisitive  about people,  everyday people. oo many people are quick to talk about his "demons" and/ or excesses; translated, he was human. He had his own inner broken-ness and we sensed it, it fact it was that quality that infused many of his characters and  was evident in almost every role he chose, and even his choice of  good works.

In conclusion I would like to say thank you James Gandolfini;

Thank you for making me care about a mobster who was elated by a family of ducks that came to live and breed near his swimming pool in New Jersey. .Thank you for reminding me the inherent dangers of  caring about such a man.

Thank you for breaking out of the tough guy roles you were seemingly made for and typecast as on the first leg of your acting career.

Thank you especially for undertaking such difficult but important work sharing our American Veterans experiences with the masses, Thank you for bringing attention to PTSD, Wounded warriors and doing so with such reverence and respect for these heroes; Like all survivor's their struggle, pain and resilience is a lesson to all of us.

Thank you for your humility your intelligence your humor and even your sadness that was ever present in your doleful eyes; It made us feel that we are not alone with our own.

Below is a copy of David Chase's Eulogy to James Gandolfini which he read at his service at St Johns Cathedral in  Manhatten NYC. It is beautiful and it is perfect and it made me realize that my instinctual feelings about this man were spot on.

Dear Jimmy,
Your family asked me to speak at your service, and I am so honored and touched. I'm also really scared, and I say that because you of all people will understand this. I'd like to run away and call in four days from now from the beauty parlor. I want to do a good job, because I love you, and because you always did a good job.

I think the deal is I'm supposed to speak about the actor/artist's work part of your life. Others will have spoken beautifully and magnificently about the other beautiful and magnificent parts of you: father, brother, friend. I guess what I was told is I'm also supposed to speak for your castmates whom you loved, for your crew that you loved so much, for the people at HBO, and Journey. I hope I can speak for all of them today and for you.

I asked around, and experts told me to start with a joke and a funny anecdote. "Ha ha ha." But as you yourself so often said, I'm not feelin' it. I'm too sad and full of despair. I'm writing to you partly because I would like to have had your advice. Because I remember how you did speeches. I saw you do a lot of them at awards shows and stuff, and invariably you would scratch two or three thoughts on a sheet of paper and put it in your pocket, and then not really refer to it. And consequently, a lot of your speeches didn't make sense. I think that could happen in here, except in your case, it didn't matter that it didn't make sense, because the feeling was real. The feeling was real. The feeling was real. I can't say that enough.

I tried to write a traditional eulogy, but it came out like bad TV. So I'm writing you this letter, and now I'm reading that letter in front of you. But it is being done to and for an audience, so I'll give the funny opening a try. I hope that it's funny; it is to me and it is to you.

And that is, one day toward the end of the show — maybe season 4 or season 5 — we were on the set shooting a scene with Stevie Van Zandt, and I think the set-up was that Tony had received news of the death of someone, and it was inconvenient for him. And it said, "Tony opens the refrigerator door, closes it and he starts to speak." And the cameras rolled, and you opened the refrigerator door, and you slammed it really hard — you slammed it hard enough that it came open again. And so then you slammed it again, then it came open again. You kept slamming it and slamming it and slamming it and slamming it and went apeshit on that refrigerator.

And the funny part for me is I remember Steven Van Zandt — because the cameras are going, we have to play this whole scene with a refrigerator door opening — I remember Steven Van Zandt standing there with his lip out, trying to figure out, "Well, what should I do? First, as Silvio, because he just ruined my refrigerator. And also as Steven the actor, because we're now going to play a scene with the refrigerator door open; people don't do that." And I remember him going over there and trying to tinker with the door and fix it, and it didn't work. And so we finally had to call cut, and we had to fix the refrigerator door, and it never really worked, because the gaffer tape showed on the refrigerator, and it was a problem all day long. And I remember you saying, "Ah, this role, this role, the places it takes me to, the things I have to do, it's so dark." And I remember telling you, "Did I tell you to destroy the refrigerator? Did it say anywhere in the script, 'Tony destroys a refrigerator'? It says 'Tony angrily shuts the refrigerator door.' That's what it says. You destroyed the fridge."

Another memory of you that comes to mind is from very early on — might have been the pilot, I don't know. We were shooting in that really hot and humid summer New Jersey heat. And I looked over, and you were sitting in an aluminum beach chair, with your slacks rolled up to your knees, in black socks and black shoes, and a wet handkerchief on your head. And I remember looking over there and going, "Well, that's really not a cool look." But I was filled with love, and I knew then that I was in the right place. I said, "Wow, I haven't seen that done since my father used to do it, and my Italian uncles use to do it, and my Italian grandfather used to do it." And they were laborers in the same hot sun in New Jersey. They were stone masons, and your father worked with concrete. I don't know what it is with Italians and cement. And I was so proud of our heritage — it made me so proud of our heritage to see you do that.

When I said before that you were my brother, this has a lot to do with that: Italian-American, Italian worker, builder, that Jersey thing — whatever that means — the same social class. I really feel that, though I'm older than you, and always felt, that we are brothers. And it was really based on that day. I was filled with so much love for everything we were doing and about to embark on.

I also feel you're my brother in that we have different tastes, but there are things we both love, which was family, work, people in all their imperfection, food, alcohol, talking, rage, and a desire to bring the whole structure crashing down. We amused each other.

The image of my uncles and father reminded me of something that happened between us one time. Because these guys were such men — your father and these men from Italy. And you were going through a crisis of faith about yourself and acting, a lot of things, were very upset. I went to meet you on the banks of the Hudson River, and you told me, you said, "You know what I want to be? I want to be a man. That's all. I want to be a man." Now, this is so odd, because you are such a man. You're a man in many ways many males, including myself, wish they could be a man.

The paradox about you as a man is that I always felt personally, that with you, I was seeing a young boy. A boy about Michael's age right now. 'Cause you were very boyish. And about the age when humankind, and life on the planet are really opening up and putting on a show, really revealing themselves in all their beautiful and horrible glory. And I saw you as a boy — as a sad boy, amazed and confused and loving and amazed by all that. And that was all in your eyes. And that was why, I think, you were a great actor: because of that boy who was inside. He was a child reacting. Of course you were intelligent, but it was a child reacting, and your reactions were often childish. And by that, I mean they were pre-school, they were pre-manners, they were pre-intellect. They were just simple emotions, straight and pure. And I think your talent is that you can take in the immensity of humankind and the universe, and shine it out to the rest of us like a huge bright light. And I believe that only a pure soul, like a child, can do that really well. And that was you.

Now to talk about a third guy between us, there was you and me and this third guy. People always say, "Tony Soprano. Why did we love him so much when he was such a prick?" And my theory was, they saw the little boy. They felt and they loved the little boy, and they sensed his love and hurt. And you brought all of that to it. You were a good boy. Your work with the
Wounded Warriors was just one example of this. And I'm going to say something because I know that you'd want me to say it in public: that no one should forget Tony Sirico's efforts with you in this. He was there with you all the way, and in fact you said to me just recently, "It's more Tony than me." And I know you, and I know you would want me to turn the spotlight on him, or you wouldn't be satisfied. So I've done that.

So Tony Soprano never changed, people say. He got darker. I don't know how they can misunderstand that. He tried and he tried and he tried. And you tried and you tried, more than most of us, and harder than most of us, and sometimes you tried too hard. That refrigerator is one example. Sometimes, your efforts were at cost to you and others, but you tried. And I'm thinking about the fact of how nice you were to strangers on the street, fans, photographers. You would be patient, loving and personal, and then finally you would just do too much, and then you would snap. And that's of course what everybody read about, was the snapping.

I was asked to talk about the work part, and so I'll talk about the show we used to do and how we used to do it. You know, everybody knows that we always ended an episode with a song. That was kind of like me and the writers letting the real geniuses do the heavy lifting: Bruce, and Mick and Keith, and Howling Wolf and a bunch of them. So if this was an episode, it would end with a song. And the song, as far as I'm concerned, would be Joan Osborne's "(What If God Was) One Of Us?" And the set-up for this — we never did this, and you never even heard this — is that Tony was somehow lost in the Meadowlands. He didn't have his car, and his wallet, and his car keys. I forget how he got there — there was some kind of a scrape — but he had nothing in his pocket but some change. He didn't have his guys with him, he didn't have his gun. And so mob boss Tony Soprano had to be one of the working stiffs, getting in line for the bus. And the way we were going to film it, he was going to get on the bus, and the lyric that would've one over that would've been — and we don't have Joan Osborne to sing it:

    If God had a face
    what would it look like?
    And would you want to see
    if seeing meant you had to believe?
    And yeah, yeah, God is great.
    Yeah, yeah, God is good.
    Yeah, yeah, yeah.

So Tony would get on the bus, and he would sit there, and the bus would pull out in this big billow of diesel smoke. And then the key lyric would come on, and it was

    What if God was one of us?
    Just a slob like one of us?
    Just a stranger on the bus
    trying to make his way home.

And that would've been playing over your face, Jimmy. But then — and this is where it gets kind of strange — now I would have to update, because of the events of the last week. And I would let the song play further, and the lyrics would be

    Just trying to make his way home
    Like a holy rollin' stone
    Back up to Heaven all alone
    Nobody callin' on the phone
    'Cept for the Pope, maybe, in Rome.


Read more at http://www.hitfix.com/whats-alan-watching/james-gandolfini-eulogized-by-sopranos-creator-david-chase-and-friends-and-family#tQDkxVyXpIeXze1d.99

Gandolfini's Eulogy