People notice when celebrities die, as they always get top billing on the news, and in discussions around the water cooler. But sometimes even the most jaded are taken aback at such an event. Such was the case a few weeks ago with the death of James Gandolfini at age 51. Starting in 1987 with a bit role in an unreleased film, Gandolfini worked his way through the ranks in Hollywood, playing in such films as True Romance, Get Shorty, and The Mexican, until he hit the motherlode of stardom with the role of Tony Soprano in HBO’s hit series The Sopranos. For eighty-six episodes of this dissection of a mob boss and his dysfunctional family, James Gandolfini commanded the home screen and won a Golden Globe and several Emmys for his efforts.
To recognize the work of this popular and charismatic actor, Cincinnati World Cinema is showing a retrospective of Gandolfini’s work. Not The Sopranos, not the above mentioned features which maybe you’ve already seen, but the low-key, under-the-radar films that will give you an even better idea of where Gandolfini’s career may have ventured had he survived.
Let’s take the films in the order that they will be shown. On Saturday, August 24th at 4 pm, the series begins with Cinema Verite, an HBO film from 2011 in which he plays a television producer who comes up with the idea for the first reality show in the 1970s. It was called An American Family which ran on PBS. The series had a camera crew embedded 24/7 with The Loud Family, and showed them warts and all to American viewers. Diane Lane and Tim Robbins play the head of this clan with other roles played by Kathleen Quinlan and Lolita Davidovich. If you watched, or just remember hearing about, An American Family, this is a good film with terrific performances about a milestone in broadcast history.
Following at 7 pm is the “cherry on the cake” of this series, Romance and Cigarettes from 2005. Cincinnati World Cinema ran this once about three years ago, but it’s been a hard to see item, and very few have. It’s worth an encore showing. Gandolfini plays a blue-collar construction worker who has a wife, three daughters, and a mistress. Directed by John Turturro and executive produced by The Coen Brothers, Romance and Cigarettes is touching, dramatic, stylish, and as some have found, maybe just a bit odd. It’s set to the music of hit pop tunes with the actors singing over the original versions, plus some choreography reminiscent of West Side Story. When it showed in town earlier, it made my ten-best list for the year. In revisiting it for this series, I can happily say I was right. This is a marvelous movie, with a dream cast including Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Christopher Walken, Mary-Louise Parker, Steve Buscemi, and more. It’s hard to walk out of this film at the end without humming or whistling such tunes as Englebert Humperdink’s “A Man Without Love,” or “Delilah” by Tom Jones. Many have hated this film. Many have also loved it, including me. I encourage you to see Romance and Cigarettes.
The following day, Sunday, August 25th, starts with Welcome to the Rileys at 4 pm. This 2010 independent production received very little theatrical exposure. It’s worth seeing for Gandolfini’s pairing with Oscar winner Melissa Leo as a couple married for thirty years who are dismally unhappy. Their lives change when they encounter a runaway teenage girl in New Orleans, as played by Twilight's Kristen Stewart.
Then at 7 pm, the retrospective closes with a couple of short films. The first, Columbus Day, is a 60 minute episode of a short run television series, featuring Gandolfini with Rosanna Arquette and Daryl Hannah. Also on the program is the 18 minute comedic drama A Whole New Day, which is virtually unseen in public.
This special series is from Cincinnati World Cinema at the Sharonville Arts Center. Most are not rated, but none are family-friendly. Don’t bring the kids.