The dust from the 20th anniversary of the hit HBO show is just settling as hoards of fans of the mob show have finally ceased their incessant instagrams, tweets, and Facebook posts. But, I think that while the acting of James Gandolfini is timeless, the creativity of David Chase is unparalleled, and the ensuing and complex storylines of the Sopranos is unique unto itself, it is for other reasons that the ‘Sopranos’ will never quite be recreated.
I’d like to first acknowledge how true to the times the Sopranos was. While we can now look back and almost ‘laugh’ at the dated technology of Tony’s television, flip phones, and Christopher’s ’60,000 dollar Lexus,’ the Sopranos made no alterations in conveying the time in which they existed.
This may not seem like that big of a deal, but when we consider films that portray gangs of their own era, there were hindrances in conveying them sincerely. Take, for instance, West Side Story. Another timeless classic, the movie poetically portrays (at the time) modern street gangs rivaling over racial differences. But, these poetic portrayals also eliminate the use of genuine vocabulary- or, curses. I mean, maybe people really did say ‘buggin,’ but it seems more likely that a few ‘fucks’ were dropped here and there, especially in regards to police officers.
The issue with gangster portrayals of modern cinema is that up until the 70’s, cinematic restrictions prevented them from being genuine. Once the 70’s brought with them the freedom to explore more explicit content (nudity, blood, violence, etc.) so too did it bring us classics like the Godfather.
While the Godfather remains a timeless classic of American Cinema, it does not portray Italian gangsters of its own era, but of a time past. What makes the film so excellent, aside from the marvelous writing, acting performances, and direction, is its authenticity. The Godfather was not afraid to use curse words, nudity, or explicit violence when seemingly genuine. Most importantly, characters’ vernaculars were true to the times and seamlessly sincere. Viewers can believe every word that can come out of a cool, level-headed intellectual like Don Corleone against the hot, aggressive mouth of his eldest son, Santino.
What we find past 1970 are television series that create storylines on gangsters past, and often fail to portray them accurately. HBO’s Boardwalk Empire falls short of using genuine vernacular. Steve Buscemi’s dialogue could be found in a Tarantino movie with the way that the vernacular is tailored for its 2010’s audience.
Netflix’s Peaky Blinders attempts to satisfy the criterium of sincere dialogue and often peppers just enough foul language from characters like Alfie Solomon where viewers may not find his dialogue disingenuous, but rather sincere, humorous, and indicative of how a disgruntled Jewish rum-runner might regard others.
But, Peaky Blinders is set in an era long before the cameras that film its characters came to exist. The Godfather, West Side Story, and Boardwalk Empire, all fail in the same regard.
Part of what made the Sopranos so special is not only that it could exist but that it did exist. While only a select few of New Jersey viewers might have actually known of any mafia-related happenings in its Northern counties, people from all over the country could imagine legitimate scenarios portrayed in the Sopranos happening on any given day.
Today, the workings of the Italian Mafia are unknown and untelevised. The gangs that ran the alcohol smuggling in the 20’s and early 30’s can only hope to be accurately represented in modern day cinema. The gangs of the 40s, 50s, 60s, and on, can only hope for the same. It is because of its authenticity, its first to truly be authentic, and its resonance with modern and future audience, that the Sopranos will never be recreated.