‘Not Fade Away’ looks at faded music memories

January 3, 2013 

The title is based on a Buddy Holly song that was one of the Rolling Stones’ first hits. It is most famous for the Bo Diddley beat, bump de bump de bump -- bump bump. Drummers and musicians know the drill. It won’t matter to the rest of you, and truthfully, unless you grew up trying to be a musician in the late 1960s and early ’70s, this movie probably won’t mean much either.

Jack Magaro plays Douglas. Just finishing high school at the end of the rock ‘n’ roll era, he’s a drummer longing to be noticed. Then Douglas hears his first Beatles song. It’s a life-changing event. He falls even deeper in love with the music of the Rolling Stones and really digs old blues tunes that went unnoticed by most others.

Douglas and his friends form a band. After high school, Douglas heads to college and grows his hair long. He still is performing in the band with the friends and eventually decides to bag the education for the music. Music is a full-time job. Needless to say, wearing long hair and canning college isn’t a decision his traditional father understands, accepts or supports.

Douglas’ group isn’t bad. He’s a decent drummer and an even better singer. Unfortunately, Douglas and his friends don’t sound much different from dozens of other bands featuring young men and women trying to capitalize on the British Invasion era.

Like many others who were in bands in the 60s, they play music, smoke pot and drink. They even get around to writing an original song. Douglas has an insecure relationship with his beautiful girlfriend.

Woven into the plot are a few of the social issues of the day. Kids question parental obsession with possessions and wonder if marriage isn’t outdated. Conversation sometimes turns to the war in Vietnam and there are hints of the civil rights movement fought by Martin Luther King.

They seem more like afterthoughts to connect you to the era than important plot pieces.

Not Fade Away is written and directed by The Sopranos executive producer David Chase. Though Chase has written several episodes of The Sopranos and other TV shows he’s produced, this is his first time behind the camera.

This movie is somewhat biographical. Chase played bass and drums as a teenager. Some of you will relate to the film. Others will not. Parts of it connected with me. I’ve played drums since the age of 15 and still play in bands today. Douglas’ relationship with his all-business, humorless father is mine as a teenager and a young man. My dad and I did not connect on any level and the relationship was incredibly tense.

Chase’s scenes between James Gandolfini -- who plays Douglas’ dad -- and Magaro are forced and awkward. The cliché dialogue between the two doesn’t quite work.

Also relatable to musicians of the era is the struggle to “make it.” For me, it was drumming with this rock band or that one, and figuring out complex relationships with bandmates, girlfriends and wives. It was a frustrating experience. Chase does a brilliant job of connecting those dots for me. But will they connect with you?

The film also struggles with a sense of continuity. Chase is not a very good storyteller. He’s all over the place and Not Fade Away plays more like a personal memory than a linear story. Recalling personal memories from decades ago -- as we all know -- is usually hit and miss. What we really remember is a bit scattered, and has faded with time.

A film mostly filled with negatives does have one huge positive. Chase uses music to reconnect those of us who grew up in the 1960s to our youth. Music legend and Bruce Springsteen bandmate Steve Van Zandt, a friend of Chase’s, is the film’s music supervisor.

Van Zandt and Chase pack the movie with some of the best rock songs of the era.

There are more than 40 songs on the soundtrack. Your toes are tapping all the way through the film and each song snippet and old television clip brings memories of who you were such a long time ago.

That is, if you care to remember what and who you were such a long time ago.

Director: David Chase

Stars: Jack Magaro, Jack Huston, James Gandolfini, Bella Heathcote

Mr. Movie rating: 3 stars

Rated R for mature themes, sex, drugs and rock and roll. It’s playing at the Carmike 12.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don’t bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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