Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Sopranos Watch: Tony, Meet Danny Ocean

The television has recently been awash with the Ocean’s series, from the network premiere of Ocean’s 12 on CBS, to the 1960 Ocean’s 11 on AMC, and the 2001 on TBS, all leading up to June 8’s release of Ocean’s 13, which happens to be right between the last two Sopranos episodes.

This recent ubiquity of the Ocean crew on the plasma offers an interesting contrast to the end of our serialized Mob drama.

The two fictional universes have points of overlap: Danny and his crew, not Mafia nor killers of any sort, are worldclass thieves. Stealing is part of the Soprano universe, even if it is the more pedestrian boosting of tools coming up from Florida or cases of wine.

Vegas/Atlantic City is another intersection point. The Mob has interests in both gaming capitals, and Danny and crew, of course, focused a lot of creative energy on stealing from Vegas bigtime, both in 1960 and 2001.

From this fictional overlap, there is a subtle connection from reality: Sinatra, the boy from Jersey with his own ties to the Mob. There’s a great picture on this crime site of Frank and the boys, 1976: Paul Castellano, Gregory DePalma, Sinatra, Tommy Marson, Carlo Gambino, Aladena Fratianno, Salvatore Spatola, Seated: Joseph Gambino, Richard Fusco. I think Sinatra’s standard line was that he would be photographed with figures of organized crime, but had no dealings with them. Sure. Okay.

The mob allusions in the Sopranos are mostly to film (Godfather, Raging Bull), but Chase captures the everyday Mob world so well—-a bunch of badly dressed, not very good looking guys, like in the Sinatra photo--that I think there’s a shadow of Sinatra and his world over the whole series (even beyond season 5’s “Rat Pack” and cameos by his daughter).

Sinatra was the first Danny Ocean—the head of a crew of ex-WWII 82 Air Borne Rangers who each need money, and so rip off 5 casinos with Army precision. Opinions differ about this original Ocean. It is a little enervated, and I hate that sweater Sinatra wears throughout. But I like the authentic swagger and the very fact that they’re not trying too hard, delivering as much as they can each day after performing at the Sands at night. And as for its attitude, Bosley Crowther, the Dickensian named film critic for the New York Times for the forties to the late sixties, was shocked that it showed “A Surprisingly nonchalant and flippant attitude toward crime. . . . That's the way it is: no dishonor, no moral misgivings, no sweat, outside of the normal, natural tension that occurs while the crime is being done.”

Yes, the Harvard Lampoon named one of its awards after him, but Crowther's concern at the lawlessness of Ocean’s caper is still very revealing. He would have had a coronary watching Danny’s murderous cousin.

Now we have a new Danny and a new crew, led by George Clooney and Brad Pitt. They wear the mantle of Ocean cool very well. They give life to a James-Bond like fantasy of world travel, state-of-the art equipment, bold, creative thinking and self-correcting of team plans. It’s surely the flip side of the sad, “real” world of the Jersey Mob family--

The slick, happy, fantasy cool of the Ocean movies reminded me of a comment I had read on some blog back at the beginning of season 6, when the downward spiral of The Sopranos was just starting to be clear.

Someone posted, “Remember when we thought these guys were so cool?” [will attribute if anyone recognizes it as theirs]

That’s a perfect line for the close of the series. Chase had artfully created a detailed universe for his Family for 6 years, tapping into the intoxicating, seductive power of rule by might and death. He drew in a large audience who was titillated by his creation and marveled at its complexity, all from the safety of the living room couch.

In these last episodes, Chase is exposing the murderers for who they are. In the coming attractions for the last episode we see the big red letters say “No more hiding.” Time’s up, and Chase as creator has to deal with what he hath wrought in a way that makes sense with the natural laws of mankind.

If we want a carefree swing of cool, we’ve got to follow the unnaturally good-looking guys in Vegas, even if the third time isn’t going to the a charm. At least you won’t see one of them walking into a psychiatrist’s office . . .