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Saturday, September 25, 2010

At a loss for something to do, so: The Sopranos

In the pilot episode of "Sopranos"--the pilot, btw, is titled 'The Sopranos,' which seems rather uninspired--the opening shot is of Tony sitting on a couch in the lobby of a psychiatrist's office. He stares at a small green sculpture of a thin, naked woman posed with her arms folded behind her head, her breasts jutting out a bit.

The expression on Tony's face, as he stares at this sculpture, is one of confused resignation. He has the same expression on his face moments later when the shrink, Dr. Melfi, ushers him into her office and invites him to sit down.

Two chairs in Melfi's office. One green, which happens to be the color of the statue (probably a coincidence of set-dressing) and one white. Melfi is in a neutral position in her own office, and does not gesture which chair Tony should choose to sit in, so he stands for a moment considering his options, looks to her for guidance (and gets none), eventually settles himself into the green chair. And he'll be in that chair for 6 seasons.

The green chair faces away from the door to Melfi's office, btw. You'd think a mob boss would choose the chair which faces the door, just in case. Sitting with your back to the door is, after all, an act of vulnerability.

The ending of the show, btw, has Tony choosing a seat facing a door, but also with a door behind him. He sits facing the entrance to the diner, but the door to the men's room is behind him.

First episode: a choice of chairs. Last episode: a choice of doors.

First episode: a choice of vulnerability, since there's only one door. Last episode: no real choice, since there are doors everywhere.

So. Tony. Green chair. Facing away from the door, accepting vulnerability. He reluctantly talks to Melfi, and hesitates occasionally by uttering variants on this phrase: "I can't talk about my business."

The reason he can't talk about his business is that it's a family business, the oldest kind of family business.

Family businesses encourage secrecy. Tony, like me, knows this.

Tony, unlike me, has a breakdown over secrecy. Sitting in the green chair with his back to Dr. Melfi's office door, Tony says this: "Let me tell you something. Nowadays, everybody's got to go to shrinks, and councilors, or on Sally Jesse Raphael to talk about their problems. Whatever happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type. That was an American. He wasn't in touch with his feelings, he just did what he had to do. So that what they didn't know is that when they got Gary Cooper in touch with his feelings, they wouldn't be able to shut him up. And then it's dysfunction this, and dysfunction that, and dysfunction ma fangul!"

"Ma fangul," btw, is a meaningless, emphatic phrase. In context, it means "out of my ass".

"Gary Cooper" was an American actor. His best film is High Noon. In that film, Gary Cooper's character is motivated by emotion and duty. He speaks more than any other character in the movie, and emotes more than even his co-star, Grace Kelley. Gary Cooper is neither strong nor silent in High Noon. So much for the strong, silent American type.

Gary Cooper's character is honorable and dutiful--and probably stupid, since he risks a happy life for a town which doesn't care about his, or its own, happiness.

High Noon. Great movie. Not a movie to base your emotional life around, tho.

Anyway, back to Tony's break-down: once he's done shouting out this long, inaccurate monologue about silent Gary Cooper, he storms out of Melfi's office and slams the door behind him.

The camera watches Tony's emotional break-down. The camera is sitting behind Melfi. The camera sees the back of Melfi's chair, the back of Melfi's body, the front of Tony's now-empty green chair, and it sees Melfi's recently-slammed door, which Tony went thru after shouting about emotionless actors.

Melfi, stunned for a moment, does this: She folds her arms behind her head. Even though she's sitting, and clothed, Melfi looks like the statue in her lobby--the green statue of a naked woman, the green statue the same color as the chair Tony decides on when Melfi offers him a seat.

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