Not Fade Away explores the ethos-driven mindsets of Traditionalists and the generation that would soon be known as Baby Boomers.
“This is a test of the emergency broadcast system.” This common refrain of American culture opens 2012’s Not Fade Away, the only feature film made by “The Sopranos” creator, David Chase. Jettisoning the expectable warning sounds that often follow this announcement, Chase replaces them with the iconic opening bassline of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” blurring the barriers between war-driven paranoia and rock ‘n’ roll — two era-defining elements of the 1960s.
In parallel with the rise and national penetration of British Invasion bands like the Beatles, Stones and myriad others, American culture was also facing an essential moment characterized by Vietnam and generational divides. It’s a gulf that’s easily captured in a conversation between the young Douglas (John Magaro) and his father Pat (James Gandolfini). Watching “The Twilight Zone” on television, Douglas comments that the show ultimately reveals that “in the end, reality is not what it looks like,” to which Pat bluntly responds, “Reality is too much what it looks like.”
Therein lies the push-and-pull examined by Chase’s film, one which explores the ethos-driven mindsets of Traditionalists and the generation that would soon be known as Baby Boomers. The latter’s idealistic and status-quo-challenging philosophy at the time was one rooted in creative, sexual and political freedom, while the older folks look on and scowl with regret at the shaggy-haired weirdos they’ve spawned—a disenchantment prompted by the idea that the world is moving forward and leaving them behind. But at the same time, the younger crowd feels like they’ve missed out on the good years as they are bombarded with news of government corruption and Vietnam carnage at every turn. This generation, however, had the inception of rock ‘n’ roll to ease their quotidian existential woes, and Not Fade Away is ultimately a movie about how one component wrestles with the other. In the end, art and angst go hand-in-hand.
And that’s the thrill of Chase’s film—how passionate creative expression drives a wedge between the dread of daily developments that young people so often face. Particularly relevant to the present climate that today’s Millennials and Gen Z-ers are dealing with, Not Fade Away becomes a universal tale of challenging the changing times with something perhaps even more powerful. The story could be unfairly summarized as the tale of one young person’s aspirations to form a band and find success, but this is a movie that eventually becomes so much more than that.
It’s a reality-rooted fiction about fathers and sons, war and peace, sex and romance and the monumental power of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s about a generation that “can’t get no satisfaction” yet strives to solve that frustration each and every day. Even if it’s just the strum of a guitar chord, a walking bassline, a beating drum and searing vocals that infiltrate the listeners’ eardrums and souls, Not Fade Away understands that sometimes these things can be more colossal than the powers that be. The film has notoriously been challenged for its admittedly jarring and questionable ending, which finds Douglas’ sister Evelyn (Meg Guzulescu) speaking directly to the screen.
“I have to write this term’s paper, and I wrote about how America has given the world two inventions of enormous power. One is nuclear weapons. The other is rock and roll. It’s a question I wrote. Which one is gonna win out in the end?”
She then dances freely to The Modern Lovers’ song “Roadrunner” in the middle of the street, and viewers had plenty of reason to be perplexed or frustrated by the movie’s final moments. For starters, it regrettably spells out the ideas that have been evident throughout the film’s duration. However, there’s something cathartic about this finale. The freedom of her movements, getting lost in the soundtrack that’s luring us in as well; it’s truly a magical thing. Silly? A tad, yes. But it doesn’t eliminate the substance that Chase is attempting to convey. Reality is what we make it. So when life feels like “The Twilight Zone,” it’s up to us to redefine the times. Sometimes, even if it’s just ephemeral, all it takes is a simple tune.