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Raised pinky meets brass knuckles

By Michael J. Smith on Monday June 11, 2007 12:20 PM

It hadda happen: Leon Wieseltier, of The Bananas Republic, has given us a whole morning's worth of thumbsucking about The Sopranos:



REALLY, THE MOST that can be said of a great film is not that it is like a great book. Film is its own literature; and whereas I understand the comparisons of The Sopranos to the masterpieces of the realist novel, and I myself have not been immune to the hyperbolic impulse in praising this magnificent enterprise, it strikes me that the achievement of The Sopranos is not so much that it puts you in mind of Balzac or Dickens, but that here on television, for most of a decade, were tales that could stand in the company of Fassbinder, and Kieslowski, and Mike Leigh, and Chabrol.

The subtle ramifications of plot and character; the absence of vulgarity (I mean vulgarity in the bad sense) from this painstaking investigation of the most vulgar people on earth; the close braiding of comedy and tragedy, so that neither optimism nor pessimism is ever the last word; the unrelenting maturity of attention that it demands of its viewers: the thing is so good it is almost not American.

The Sopranos stands as a lasting chastisement of its medium, in that it accomplishes what American television most abhors: an improvement, by means of art, of the American sense of reality.

If there were a Nobel Prize for bombast, this guy would win it, hands down. He "has not been immune to the hyperbolic impulse?" We've all noticed that, Leon.

Reading a Wieseltier essay is a bit like digging a trench in really wet, clayey, gluey soil. I don't know if it's quite such good exercise, or so morally uplifting, but it does give you plenty of time for thought, as you turn over spadeful after backbreaking spadeful of leaden verbiage.

I particularly loved the bit about "improving the American sense of reality," considering that Leon writes for a publication which has shown an almost heroic determination to keep reality "far away from us," to borrow a line from Fiddler On The Roof.

There is of course a point of resemblance between the New Republic and the Soprano family: they're both gangs of thugs. There, however, the resemblance ends. The Sopranos are funny, and entertaining, and even oddly likable, none of which can be said for The New Republic. And the Sopranos are a lot tougher. How I would love to see Marty and Leon saunter into the Bada Bing Lounge and start laying down the law. Intellectual mafia meets the real thing -- and wouldn't fare any better than intellectual aristocracy in the analogous predicament.

Comments (2)


given my own lead belted proclivities
i'll pass on the prosodics of herr leon

and merely suggest his view
of the bada ding
not as a docked pequod
but better yet even
nearly up to euro film shelf quality .....
don't it just
reveals perfectly
why the french know us better at our best
then our know brows know " ourselves "

without that n year running
tv playpen of gore and guts
we'd not have seen
the delightful romps
tony and pauly and junior
and some odd tarts --imported and domestic---

but the euro "depth of symbol "
too often
"vaguely mobilizing on the horizon"
as manny farber once put it

welll....it makes me puke

just like that kid did
after the rolling suv
bump-sunk over
phil leotardo's one holed head last night


Reading a Wieseltier essay is a bit like digging a trench in really wet, clayey, gluey soil.


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