Vale James Gandolfini
James Gandolfini died yesterday. While James played many roles in many different productions, there’s no doubt his work in portraying Tony Soprano will be remembered as his finest.
Does it diminish Mr Gandolfini’s life to present a requiem for him through one of his characters? Potentially, but I offer the following as a tribute to a man who produced some of history’s finest screen acting and undoubtedly made an enormous contribution to the greatest television program yet produced.
So here goes – a requiem to James, visualised through Tony and some of the things that were important to him.
The Sopranos’ ability to demonstrate the humanity of its characters was one of its greatest successes and Tony’s love for and respect of animals was a thread that rode the journey from the very beginning to the very end. Like all the lessons in The Sopranos, human fallibility and the impossibility of functional dogmatic rigidity in life were the key messages.
Tony loved those ducks. His spirits in the early episodes were so closely tied to their presence that for the remainder of the show, they seemed to be characters in absence – an implied influence.
That said and like all things Sopranos, there was another side to the ‘love of animals’ coin. Tony’s moral duality was never more apparent than when his love of the horse Pie-O-My and his devastation at its ‘equislaughter’ led him to take matters (read: necks) into his own hands. So perfect was the set-up of the character development that even as we saw this unfold, we formed Tony’s defence in our heads and saw our own morals dissolve into grey.
… “yeah but Ralph was a scumbag, he deserved to get clipped!” said every viewer.
Respecting those in charge was one of Tony’s strongest messages – particularly when he was the one in charge. The sentiment added a sort of endearingly homespun conservativeness to Tony that was hard to resist. He wanted the system to live on after the current players were off the table, to build, to create. To endure.
Tony also showed us that while respect has to be earned it sometimes also has to be maintained.
Family meant a lot of things to Tony of course, and one beautiful thing Tony showed us that was a big part of what made us love him was his undying and ferocious love for his blood. His love persisted beyond all reasonable bounds to love those he called family, even if it (almost) killed him. Tender when necessary, angry often and occasionally divisive, Tony was always the most important thing as a parent – present.
Protecting the family often meant strange things to us non-Tony’s though…
Thank you James, for embodying Tony. Rest easy and don’t stop believing. We won’t.
Chi ben vive ben muore. Grazie. Addio.
Duncan McKimm is based in Melbourne.
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