"This Magic Moment": David Chase analyzes the final scene of the series

#1
[ETA by FlyOnMelfisWall: was heading here to post this when I saw UP already had. For convenience, it's an article Chase wrote for The Director's Guild of America

EDIT: Whoops, forgot the link. Thanks Fly!

...And no, there's no clear-cut "yes" or "no" answer to that question. Just want to get that out of the way first.

Despite anyone left who's still really sore about the lack of definitive answers to the most literal question of Tony's mortality, this is really fascinating stuff, and definitely the most he's ever said on the matter. I always wished for a director's commentary on Made in America on the DVD sets, and well - as far as the last five minutes go - here it is. As tight-lipped as Chase usually is, I almost had a hard time believing these were his own words - and would've remained very skeptical, if not for the fact that the Director's Guild is as a reputable source as any.

It's interesting here that he confirms a lot of what's included in the infamous Master of Sopranos analysis, as far as the technical steps he took throughout the scene to build tension and suggest the death of Tony. This is the most Chase has ever said about a very concerted effort to invoke the image of Tony's death as a possibility through the end of the series. Where he parts ways with Master of Sopranos, though - and plenty of other fans who just want to know whether or not Tony's brains ended up all over his bowl of onion rings - is that Chase continues to maintain that that's really not the point. And I don't think that's a cop-out. I believe he speaks with complete, genuine earnestness about the larger philosophical conversation he would rather get at.

Quoting the article here for convenience:

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It was my decision to direct the episode such that whenever Tony arrives someplace, he would see himself. He would get to the place and he would look and see where he was going. He had a conversation with his sister that went like this. And then he later had a conversation with Junior that went like this. I had him walk into his own POV every time. So the order of the shots would be Tony close-up, Tony POV, hold on the POV, and then Tony walks into the POV. And I shortened the POV every time. So that by the time he got to Holsten's, he wasn't even walking toward it anymore. He came in, he saw himself sitting at the table, and the next thing you knew he was at the table.

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Alik Sakharov, the DP, and I saw the location and talked about it a lot. I had a vision in my head when I wrote it, but when you move into a place you have to figure out how to shoot in that location. We wanted to be in the middle of the room obviously, so we could be on either side of the booth. We didn't want to be shooting against a blank wall on one side of the booth; we wanted it to be in the middle to give it depth all around. But there was a radiator unit in the only place where we would really have the room, so we had to build a booth over that radiator unit. It was very difficult. And we did not have much room to dolly or track around. So a lot of what we did in this scene came about after going to Holsten's. The vision has to coalesce with the real physical location.

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Tony's flipping through the jukebox; it's almost like the soundtrack of his life, because he sees various songs. No matter what song we picked, I wanted it to be a song that would have been from Tony's high school years, or his youth. That's what he would have played. When I wrote it, there were three songs in contention for this last song, and 'Don't Stop Believin'' was the one that seemed to work the best. I think it's a really good rock 'n' roll song. The music is very important to me in terms of the timing of the scene, the rhythm of the scene. The song dictates part of the pace. And having certain lyrics of the song, and certain instrumental flourishes happen in certain places, dictates what the cuts will be. I directed the scene to fit the song. The singing gets more and more strident and more invested as the song goes along. Musically it starts to build and build into something as it's just about to release. And when you look at the scene, you get that feeling.

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I love the timing of the lyric when Carmela enters: 'Just a small town girl livin' in a lonely world, she took the midnight train goin' anywhere.' Then it talks about Tony: 'Just a city boy,' and we had to dim down the music so you didn't hear the line, 'born and raised in South Detroit.' The music cuts out a little bit there, and they're speaking over it. 'He took the midnight train goin' anywhere.' And that to me was [everything]. I felt that those two characters had taken the midnight train a long time ago. That is their life. It means that these people are looking for something inevitable. Something they couldn't find. I mean, they didn't become missionaries in Africa or go to college together or do anything like that. They took the midnight train going anywhere. And the midnight train, you know, is the dark train.

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Tony hears the bell when the door opens and he's repeatedly looking up when he hears it throughout the scene. That rhythm is very important to the scene. The bell harkens back to the first episode [of the second part] of the final season called 'Sopranos Home Movies,' when Tony is out on a dock on this lake, and every once in a while a boat's bell dings and brings him out of himself and back to the present. So here's the bell again, and sure enough, he looks up, and then he gets distracted, and there's the bell again. In my mind, it's like a meditation bell. Not to be thinking about the past, not to be thinking about the future, only about now. It's like the song 'This Magic Moment.' I used that at the end of 'Sopranos Home Movies,' and it's one of the songs he sees on the jukebox in this episode.

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My thinking about wanting to introduce A.J. and the guy together was that both the audience and Tony would not focus on the guy so much, they would focus on A.J. Tony would focus on his son, rather than the man who might be there to do him harm. A lot of the audience I gathered doesn't like A.J.; they think he's a useless, spoiled fool. But there's also something about him that is earnest. He's got his father's kind of questioning and kind of little boy innocence. When I see Tony reach across and grab his arm [when he arrives], it makes me feel really good. Not only that, I'll tell you who else is reaching across the table, that's Jim Gandolfini reaching across to Robert Iler in the last scene they're going to do together. I never talked about it with them, but I know for a fact.

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Cutting to Meadow parking was my way of building up the tension and building up the suspense, but more than that I wanted to demonstrate the lyrics of the song, which is streetlights, people walking up and down the boulevard, because that's what the song is saying. 'Strangers waiting.' I wanted you to remember that is out there. That there are streetlights and people out there and strangers moving up and down. It's the stream of life, but not only that, it's the stream of life at night. There's that picture called History Is Made at Night [from 1937]. I love that title. And that kind of echoes in my head all the time.

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I just wanted the guy to look over. I didn't want him to look particularly menacing. And he glances off Tony so quickly. We worked on that quite a bit so he wasn't staring at him. The guy was like looking around the place in general. Tony doesn't acknowledge that he sees him. Tony leads a very dangerous, suspicious life and he's always on guard. But he's in this old-fashioned American sweet shop with those round stools and the counter and the football hero pictures and Cub Scouts. Everything that should make him feel at ease, and yet there is a slight ill at ease feeling which we bring to it because we know who he is and what he's done. And he can never be sure that any enemy is completely gone. He always has to have eyes behind his head.

Re: "This Magic Moment": David Chase analyzes the final scene of the series

#2
Continued:

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The tension is quite high now, but if you think about it, for no real reason. Who's in the place? A guy in a jacket, Cub Scouts, a young couple, a trucker in a hat, a couple of black guys in there to buy some candy. There's no real reason for the tension to ratchet up. But it does. And that's what I love, how you make that. Of course, a tremendous amount of that happens in the editing room. You've got the pieces and you've got the intention, but who do you come back to and who you don't, what's the expression on their face. I think that's what montage and editing do best. And music. They play with time. You're going, 'come on, hurry up, no, slow down, no, hurry up, no, no, no, slow down.' That plays with your heartbeat, because that's the real clock.

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We tracked a bit in this shot. We had to move to get the bathroom sign. I can't say it was tricky, but it was time consuming because of the tight space. Yes, the scene in The Godfather [when Michael Corleone kills Sollozzo and McCluskey] occurred to me; it's an iconic scene. I would say that Tony checked the guy out at some level. I mean any middle-aged male that would get that close to him, I'm sure he would do some summary surveillance of. It may be very quick; his instincts are very sharp. He doesn't feel threatened by him but I'm sure he clocks that that guy's in the bathroom, and that that guy should come out. It's more like 'I want to see that guy come out.' This is all on a subconscious level, I'm sure. We all do this, every moment of our lives.

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I tried to build the tension and suspense as much as possible. That's why I could go back out to Meadow and her car-parking. I could use all that stuff to affect the pace. I think almost every director is thinking about the pacing. That's what directing is. I did want to create the idea that you would wonder if something was going to happen in there. Meadow is filled with nothing but very, very deep emotions about parking her car. But possibly a minute later, her head will be filled with emotions she could never even imagine. We all take this stuff so seriously—losing our keys, parking our car, a winter cold, a summer cold, an allergy—whatever it is. And this stuff fills our mind from second to second, moment to moment. And the big moment is always out there waiting.

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This is the last shot of the family, or the three of them anyway. Framing is extremely important. I think it makes you feel so much below the level of verbiage and words. What they're talking about is how good those onion rings are. For me, food is always central to a feeling of family and to a feeling of security and happiness. A.J. had remembered a moment at the end of the final show of the first season when they were all sitting down, eating in Vesuvio's Italian restaurant and Tony said, 'Just remember … value the good times,' the moments, there really aren't that many of them. And this is one of the very good times. And yet there's something wrong with it because Meadow is not there. So the family isn't really together. I think on some subliminal level that raises the tension. We know the family should be together and they're not.

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I said to Gandolfini, the bell rings and you look up. That last shot of Tony ends on 'don't stop,' it's mid-song. I'm not going to go into [if that's Tony's POV]. I thought the possibility would go through a lot of people's minds or maybe everybody's mind that he was killed. He might have gotten shot three years ago in that situation. But he didn't. Whether this is the end here, or not, it's going to come at some point for the rest of us. Hopefully we're not going to get shot by some rival gang mob or anything like that. I'm not saying that [happened]. But obviously he stood more of a chance of getting shot by a rival gang mob than you or I do because he put himself in that situation. All I know is the end is coming for all of us.

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I thought the ending would be somewhat jarring, sure. But not to the extent it was, and not a subject of such discussion. I really had no idea about that. I never considered the black a shot. I just thought what we see is black. The ceiling I was going for at that point, the biggest feeling I was going for, honestly, was don't stop believing. It was very simple and much more on the nose than people think. That's what I wanted people to believe. That life ends and death comes, but don't stop believing. There are attachments we make in life, even though it's all going to come to an end, that are worth so much, and we're so lucky to have been able to experience them. Life is short. Either it ends here for Tony or some other time. But in spite of that, it's really worth it. So don't stop believing.

Re: "This Magic Moment": David Chase analyzes the final scene of the series

#3
Ha ha! Hard to think someone hasn't shown Chase what we've been up to over here at The Chase Lounge. The style and everything in this article looks familiar. Maybe Chase wants to make sure he finally gives some more explanation in light of everything being discussed? Maybe Im just thinking too highly of myself? Who knows. But the timing is interesting. What prompted him to talk about it so much all of the sudden? In fact much of his analysis covers my original post about "its all there" before the epic one Im working on.

http://thechaselounge.net/showthread.php?t=2928

It looks ALOT like it. One where I sequenced the song titles on the jukebox with the bell ringing door opening. people entering. This is awesome! I love that we have awoken his voice about the subject and pretty much backs up what we've been saying!So cool! Just saying..... :icon_wink:
[font="Franklin Gothic Medium"]You know, Vito called me “skip” the other day. Slip of the tongue, no doubt. But I noticed he didn’t correct himself.[/font][SIZE="1"][/SIZE]

Re: "This Magic Moment": David Chase analyzes the final scene of the series

#5
I think what many of us here always appreciated (and a few of us didn't, LOL) was that whether Tony died or not that night was never what really interested Chase. Everything he's ever said, punctuated by this most revealing discourse yet, confirms that he never intended to portray an answer to that question and has no answer for it himself.

Of course he had to raise the specter of it because that specter was there from the beginning in ways that Tony's "profession" amplified enormously. We were always reminded that this WAS life and death. But it was also always just a context, a far more intense concentration of the same context in which we all live. And our certain knowledge that we will all one day die is our context for trying to find -- or make -- meaning inside the finite window we call our lives. So I'm still puzzled (in a way) at how invested some people felt at finding "the answer" to the "did he die" question when, for me, it was NEVER interesting.

What mattered to me was how Tony lived and how much he did or didn't psychologically grow from the beginning to the end of the series. This show opened in a psychiatrist's office and the final two seasons took that theme to its ultimate depth ("psyche" is the Greek word for "soul") and attempted to examine ultimate spiritual questions: "Who am I? Where am I going?" How that could be reduced to superficial arguments about whether the guy in the Members Only jacket "came out of the toilet blasting" is still beyond me. Then again, the rational mind is binary, must have a "yes" or a "no" -- not a "yes" AND a "no" -- and, in that sense, the endless discussions and arguments over whether he died in Holsten's are just a microcosmic reflection of the duality consciousness that we're all trying to transcend here (mostly without realizing we are, LOL).

In any case, I did find Chase's explanation of his directorial decisions interesting, especially as I am writing my own "epic" screenplay now about my spiritual journey and hope to be ready to begin filming in earnest by late 2016 or early 2017. So getting more insight into how Chase blends his understanding of character and big philosophical issues with the visual language and economies of expression that film requires is a treat.
Tony, his spirits crushed after b-lining to the fridge first thing in the morning: "Who ate the last piece of cake?"

Re: "This Magic Moment": David Chase analyzes the final scene of the series

#6
Thats awesome Fly! Im very excited for your endeavor. It sounds like its been a process for you. I am anticipating something marvelous to come out of you based on your writing and analysis here on this forum. I agree. He still dodges a definitive answer. But who really wants one anyway? It spoils the fun, and Chase knows this. Its a Journey, not a destination.....My friend DH. I for one agreed with you all those years ago. Go back and check my love for you, its all documented. Its part of what inspired me. I even gave you credit in my analysis. Its all gravy.... ;)
[font="Franklin Gothic Medium"]You know, Vito called me “skip” the other day. Slip of the tongue, no doubt. But I noticed he didn’t correct himself.[/font][SIZE="1"][/SIZE]

Re: "This Magic Moment": David Chase analyzes the final scene of the series

#7
Chase's explanation proves, at least to me, that the final scene was a existentialist masterpiece and statement. Based on the existentialism that runs throughout since the very beginning to the end of the series the ending now comes as no suprise. Chase might believe that life itself has no purpose so that's why the ending has no definitive meaning. We as humans have to "Focus on the good times" as AJ and Tony said. I think it's why Chase was baffled at the enormous amount of analysis and interpretation as some viewers showed severe disdain for the ambiguity of the dream sequences (I think they're incredible) and other plot points and character motivations. It makes complete sense to me though, as us as humans we long and strive for meaning to everything that happens to us. Some though inevitably get frustrated and that's alright. One of the main reasons why we love The Sopranos is that it's gets better and better with age, like a fine wine, so they say. The artistic statement that Chase showed is bleak and dark for sure (It's about death, basically) but that to me is what makes the ending and the series as a whole so powerful, timeless and important. As the manager in "This is Spinal Tap" said "Every film in every cinema is about death, death sells" :icon_mrgreen:
"I use the technique of positive visualization. How come I always feel undermined?"
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