Friday, June 21, 2013

Fade to black

It's fitting that I watched On Golden Pond, Henry Fonda's final film, on the same day that James Gandolfini died.

There's something about watching the last film by someone who died soon afterward that naturally fills a person with melancholy. As it happens, I also just recently watched what turned out to be one of Gandolfini's last films, Not Fade Away. I didn't of course know to appreciate Gandolfini as I was watching it, but in retrospect, it feels pretty melancholy indeed.

See, Gandolfini's character in that film has what he believes is psoriasis. During the course of the film, it's instead diagnosed as cancer, which leads to some poignant moments contemplating his character's mortality.

Which makes it a more fitting "final film" for Gandolfini than, say, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

Gandolfini still has films called Nicky Deuce coming out this year and Animal Rescue coming out next year, according to Wikipedia. But neither of those sounds like a good "final film" that will serve as some kind of summation of what he accomplished in his career.

Not Fade Away -- a movie set in New Jersey based on Sopranos creator David Chase's own life -- stands a much better chance at filling that function.

On Golden Pond was indeed Fonda's last film role, and perhaps it's so easy to remember it as such because a) it won him an Oscar, and b) it deals specifically with an octogenarian starting to lose his memory and confront the inevitable approach of death. For Fonda, death came sooner than he could have imagined.

It was indeed just a coincidence that I watched it last night, as I was watching it for a series I'm doing on another blog. And let's just say the death earlier that day of the erstwhile Tony Soprano made the experience of watching it just a tad more melancholy.

I'm not really sure why Gandolfini's death is striking me harder than your average celebrity death. I did watch The Sopranos, but only starting around season 4, so you wouldn't call me the die-hard Sopranos fan that other people are. So I can't quite explain it.

Except that I feel like underneath all that bluster and menace that Gandolfini made part of his characters, I sensed a teddy bear -- a guy whose wide smile was more of an indication of his true nature than how his characters used their fists or mouth.

Rest in peace.

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