Mourning King James

James Gandolfini, who died at 51 on Wednesday, brilliantly disturbed our living rooms for the better part of a decade

Virginia Heffernan is the national correspondent for Yahoo! News, covering culture and politics from a digital perspective. She wrote extensively on Internet culture during her eight years as a staff writer for The New York Times, and she has also worked at Harper’s, the New Yorker and Slate. Her book, “Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet,” is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.

by Virginia Heffernan

James Gandolfini, who died yesterday at 51, hated Tony Soprano. The monstrously significant role that made Gandolfini’s name—over eight long seasons on HBO—nearly destroyed him. He was sickened by the violent scenes in “The Sopranos”: the ice-cold ones, the operatic ones, all of it. Instead of sensibly fleeing his discomfort, though, Gandolfini squared off with it, built a totemic character around it, and set a new standard for virile dramatic performance—in an 80-hour movie that would have made mincemeat of Olivier or Marlon Brando in its first ten.

“He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time,” David Chase, who created “The Sopranos,” said yesterday. “A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes. I remember telling him many times, ‘You don’t get it. You’re like Mozart.’ There would be silence on the other end of the phone.”

Gandolfini did not get it. But his eyes did—haunted, mournful, profoundly penitent eyes. I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry. Shot so as to dial up the whites, the eyes were terrified and terrifying. They may have seemed porcine.

That last word I use advisedly, because when I once described Gandolfini’s eyes that way in an article full of praise for him, Gandolfini shot me an email of thanks, but added, “Piggy eyes?!?!” He was right. That was off the mark. There was nothing flat or inscrutable in his Tony. In his every gesture and expression, in his lumber and laugh, Gandolfini’s Tony was all-too-human—fallen, pious, expansive, corrupt, ever hopeful of reform. A sublime pater familias who brilliantly disturbed our living rooms for the better part of a decade.

Before “The Sopranos,” Gandolfini memorably played the heavily sadistic thug Virgil in Tony Scott’s “True Romance” (1993) and the lightly sadistic Lt. Bobby Dougherty in Scott’s “Crimson Tide” (1995). Both characters have more power than they seem to want; they keep trying to get out from under it, to give it the hell away—by being ridiculous or tender or self-destructive—so they can just be plain men again.

Gandolfini was an actor and a man with broad shoulders. It was hard for directors not to put the weight of the world on them, or ordain—as in “Get Shorty”—that he was just a big old sweetheart. Only Chase, who considered Gandolfini a brother, determined exactly how to dramatize the actor’s fierce ambivalence about his commanding presence, and the horrifying responsibilities it kept bringing him. The best of their collaboration can be seen not only in “The Sopranos,” but also in Chase’s slyly gorgeous movie about trappedness, “Not Fade Away.” In that film, Anthony Lane wrote, Gandolfini “nails the image of a guy who hardly dared to countenance escape, and never left.”

In HBO’s “Cinema Verite” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” which he made in the last years of his life, Gandolfini seems naturally to have taken to the pops role. He played, respectively, a hippie documentarian and a CIA director, and neither character seems morally distorted by his responsibilities. Gandolfini, however, found something to regret. In a letter to Leon Panetta, the former CIA director and son of Italian immigrants who served as the model for his role in “Zero Dark Thirty,” Gandolfini wrote, “'I'm very sorry about everything. The wig, everything. You're kind of like my father. You'll find something to be angry about.”

This to Leon Panetta. I can almost hear Gandolfini reading the letter, a microphone close on his incomparable nose-breathing, the way David Chase used to do it. He’s sorry. He’s funny. And James Gandolfini—who for a time seemed like father to everyone—is asking his father for forgiveness. For everything. Everything, the wig, everything.

  • BlackBerry's meltdown sparks start-up boom in Canada's Silicon Valley
    BlackBerry's meltdown sparks start-up boom in Canada's Silicon Valley

    By Sayantani Ghosh, Ashutosh Pandey and Euan Rocha (Reuters) - The troubles at BlackBerry Ltd, which fired more than half its staff and lost more than 90 percent of its market value as consumers shunned its smart phones, might have spelled disaster for the company's hometown of Waterloo, Ontario. More than 450 start-ups opened for business in the twin cities of Waterloo and Kitchener last year, more than four times the number begun in 2009, according to Communitech, a local company that advises them. Often, the new companies are being founded by former BlackBerry employees chasing their entrepreneurial ambitions in a community that's Canada's answer to technology hubs in California and elsewhere. "For those who are trying to get a new tech business off the ground, get it funded, and not get lost in the shadow of Silicon Valley, Waterloo can be the best place to get your company on the map," said Sean McCabe, vice-president of engineering at drone manufacturer Aeryon Labs Inc in Waterloo.

  • Bank of Canada says inflation rise hasn't shaken neutral stance
    Bank of Canada says inflation rise hasn't shaken neutral stance

    By Louise Egan and Leah Schnurr OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian central bank chief Stephen Poloz said on Wednesday an interest rate cut is still a possibility even though the bank forecasts inflation will pick up speed this year and approach its 2 percent target. The Bank of Canada held its benchmark interest rate at 1 percent, as expected, extending a 3-1/2 year freeze on borrowing costs.

  • GM to seek court protection against ignition lawsuits
    GM to seek court protection against ignition lawsuits

    GM has said it is protected from liability for claims related to incidents that occurred before it exited bankruptcy in 2009, and has taken steps to raise those issues with the court by filing motions to stay recall-related lawsuits while it asks that bankruptcy court to clarify the extent of that protection. In a filing with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on Tuesday, GM asked for a stay on litigation related to ignition claims until a judicial panel on multidistrict litigation decides on a motion to consolidate the case with other lawsuits and the bankruptcy court rules on whether the claims violate GM's 2009 bankruptcy sale order. The company earlier filed a similar motion with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California seeking a stay on pending litigation. The defect has been linked to the deaths of at least 13 people and the recall of 2.6 million GM vehicles.

  • U.S. delay pushes Canada oil pipeline choke points upstream

    By Nia Williams CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Enbridge Inc is on the brink of breaking through oil pipeline bottlenecks in the U.S. Midwest that have dogged the company for nearly four years, potentially ending a need to ration space at the heart of its network. But here's the rub: Relieving congestion downstream is simply likely to expose choke points further upstream, traders say, as unexpected delays in securing a U.S. permit to expand a major segment of its 5,363km (3,333 mile) Mainline system leaves Canada's heavy crude bottled up for months more. But a parallel project to expand the northwestern leg of the system called Alberta Clipper, which runs from Alberta's oil sands to just south of the U.S. border in Minnesota, has been delayed by as long as a year. As a result, traders and analysts say the bottleneck will simply shift into Canada, leaving cash crude prices under pressure well into 2015.

  • For Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, boring is beautiful

    Investment banks Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc posted better-than-expected quarterly earnings on Thursday, helped by gains in merger advisory and stock underwriting. The results underscored how businesses viewed as stodgy before the financial crisis are becoming critical drivers of earnings growth for investment banks now. Goldman's fixed-income trading revenue plunged during the first quarter, both for trades it did for customers and investments on its own account. But the bank's investment management and its stock underwriting and merger advisory businesses logged big gains.

  • Mt. Gox set to liquidate as court denies rehabilitation
    Mt. Gox set to liquidate as court denies rehabilitation

    Mt. Gox, once the world's biggest bitcoin exchange, is likely to be liquidated after a Tokyo court dismissed the company's bid to resuscitate its business, the court-appointed administrator said on Wednesday. CEO Mark Karpeles is also likely to be investigated for liability in the collapse of the Tokyo-based firm, the provisional administrator, lawyer Nobuaki Kobayashi, said in a statement published on the Mt. Gox website. "The Tokyo District Court recognized that it would be difficult for the company to carry out the civil rehabilitation proceedings and dismissed the application for the commencement of the civil rehabilitation proceedings," he said. In Wednesday's order for provisional administration, the court put the company's assets under Kobayashi's control until bankruptcy proceedings officially commence and a bankruptcy trustee is named.

  • Lululemon's status as yogawear's top dog at risk
    Lululemon's status as yogawear's top dog at risk

    By Phil Wahba NEW YORK (Reuters) - Still hurting from last year's see-through yoga pants debacle, Lululemon Athletica Inc is about to face a new headache: stepped-up competition from rival yoga retailers, department stores and hot new brands. The company is facing aggressive competition from stores such as Gap Inc's Athleta, VF Corp's lucy, Macy's Inc and others selling activewear at lower prices at far more locations. Small but hot yogawear brands such as Sweaty Betty and Lorna Jane also pose a potential threat, but the biggest competition is expected to come from Athleta, which will open 30 stores this year, tripling its locations to about 100 stores in just two years. Long a Wall Street darling for its dizzying revenue growth, the Vancouver, Canada-based company recently reported its first decline in quarterly comparable sales since 2009.

  • Loud in a crowd: Nissan range gets grille makeover
    Loud in a crowd: Nissan range gets grille makeover

    By Norihiko Shirouzu BEIJING (Reuters) - Japanese carmaker Nissan Motor Co is going for a facelift to stand out from the crowd. In an increasingly competitive global market - in China alone there are some 80 automakers battling for sales - Nissan plans to put a V-shaped front grille design on most of its models to give itself a "distinct, unified face", says global design chief Shiro Nakamura. "Before, we didn't really feel a pressing need for unified looks, but the number of brands is on the rise sharply in China, and there are simply too many different faces," Nakamura told Reuters in a recent interview. We realize we've been a bit too modest," Nakamura said, adding that while this is a global strategy for the Nissan brand, it's especially relevant in China.

Follow Yahoo! News

Loading...