I often think back to films and television shows that captured me upon first viewing. Films like Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist and David Lynch's Blue Velvet all moved me to the point of studying and completing cinema studies at university level.
When it comes to television, however, there are series, like the films I've listed, that I can safely call 'influences'. David Chase's The Sopranos is, without doubt, an example of a series that helped to spark and sustain my interest in screen studies.
Looking back, Chase's series worked for many reasons. For one, its brilliant characterisation, comprising of melancholic mob bosses (James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano), deluded gangster wives (Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano) and loyal goons (Steve Van Zant as Silvio and Tony Sirico as Paulie) all did much to shoot the show to fame and acclaim upon airing in 1999.
Chase's conscious use of symbolism and motif, still, after years of ending, resonates with and perplexes audiences. What was it that Tony loved so much about animals, a type of affection he struggled to show towards people? How does one begin to define the ironic image of a gangster in a psychiatrist's office? What is the significance of Tony's dreaming, or Chase's illustrations of his subconscious?
Chase created a series that depicted the gritty, violent urbanity of New Jersey, a landscape that still amazes viewers upon review today. Images of Italian cuisine and the use of dialect in the script ('finook' and 'brazoot' come to mind) all work seamlessly and successfully together.
The show's setting, coupled with Chase's use of an eclectic soundtrack (as can be seen in many Bada Bing sequences throughout the series), makes this HBO creation a personal favourite of mine.
There are films and television shows that have significantly shaped my worldview. Whether we’re talking about selected films from Scorsese, Bertolucci or Lynch’s bodies of work, or even series like Chase's, these texts have shaped my love for the screen. The Sopranos, however, is a series that kick-started my love for small screen viewing.
By Chris Traficante