AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2012
By Dirk Sonniksen | October 21, 2012
Director: David Chase
Writer: David Chase
Starring: John Magaro, Will Brill, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, James Gandolfini, Molly Price
The sixties are in full swing and the kids are getting all junked up on that rock & roll music. “Black” music — aka, rock & roll, has infiltrated the hearts and minds of young, white teens, and Douglas (John Magaro) is no exception. After watching a local band, Douglas realizes that the girls get weak knees in the presence of these musical prodigies, so he ventures out and buys a set of drums…that he can’t play. After a fairly disastrous first gig, the band realizes that Douglas is much better suited as a frontman (to the detriment of the current frontman, played by Jack Huston). Douglas also meets Grace (Bella Heathcote), who has become increasingly keen on rockers, and the story quickly becomes centered on the relationship between Douglas and Grace.
Director David Chase introduced Not Fade Away at the 2012 Austin Film Festival, and while he described the film as not necessarily autobiographical, he did point out similarities between his life in the sixties and the film (He played drums, he lived in New Jersey, he loves music…). The biggest point Chase made was how rock & roll was a driving force in his youth, once referring to The Rolling Stones’ Aftermath album as having affected him considerably. But aside from the music, Not Fade Away focuses a great deal on the lifestyle rock music created in the sixties, particularly for the youth that gravitated toward its rebellious charms. It’s another film that focuses on music, youth, sex, partying, and the idea that one can bypass the rat race and be a rock star…or not.
Chase delivers a good script that begins with a boy staring longingly at a set of drums in a music shop window, and morphs into a full-fledged love story between two individuals that are confused as to what they want out of life. In a sense, Douglas’s relationship with music is a love story of its own. For Douglas and to a lesser degree, Grace, rock & roll has become, not their salvation, but more a vehicle to explore more deeply what it is to be alive.
What becomes troublesome with Not Fade Away is the cinematography. As this was being screened ahead of it’s intended December release, it’s possible that Chase and crew planned on cleaning up some of the shots before its official release. There were moments in the film where focus became a prominent issue, and I wondered if this was intentional, or perhaps there were some issues up in the booth. Whatever the reason, the look of the film was sloppy. Not Fade Away had a very made-for-television vibe to it as well, and while it is not the deadliest sin in film, I did wonder more than once if the TV look and the cinematography issues would indeed be the undoing of the film.
Chase assembled a worthy cast, and John Magaro does a great job transforming the naive youthful Douglas into a cocky, wannabe rock god, without losing much of his naiveté. Bella Heathcote proves worthy as the beautiful, agile groupie moving from guy to guy only to find true love (or is it?) with Douglas. Jack Huston does his best as a dejected rocker, and Will Brill is an admirable presence, although his wig is possibly the worst ever in the history of film. James Gandolfini plays Douglas’s father, and while the tension and the jealously between these two is palpable, Gandolfini strays little from his character in The Sopranos. Perhaps my favorite in the cast was Molly Price as Douglas‘s neurotic mom (“I’m gonna slit my wrists!”).
Not Fade Away is a fun look at the burgeoning rock & roll scene in the sixties, it’s effect on the youth of the time, and the music’s force on society in general. There are aspects of the film that feel very original, and I’m guessing the majority of those moments come from Chase’s own experiences with rock music in his youth. That aside, much of Not Fade Away is reminiscent of other films that focus on rock & roll, regardless of the era. Add to that a love story that becomes not only a bit predictable, but tiresome, and cinematography that falls short, and Not Fade Away…fades from the memory rather quickly.