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(Spoiler-warning – I’m talking here about the final episode of the Sopranos, which aired tonight…)

Wonderful, to think of the ten-million or so viewers shouting “fuck!” because their tv went out at once. (I know we did! “Fucking DVR! Fix it! Fix it!”… Until the credits started to roll… (The baby went down late tonight, so we watched on a 20 minute digital video delay…)

You can’t accomplish this sort of ending with most other media – the reader of the novel can see exactly how many words remain, always know as they read the final sentence of the work “this is the final sentence of the work.”

Chase and his writers, fully aware of the atmosphere they work in today in America, forced forward this season the theme of violence, the media, and audience complicity. The last two episodes have been marked by gross-out sequences that featured ooing and tonight barfing audiences

Phil’s death scene was a little masterpiece of the form. From the two kids in car seats in the back of the SUV, which echos Tony’s fixation on the demolished car seat in the back of Christopher’s car) to the way that the rolling vehicle forces us to make a decision between fixing on Phil’s head about to be crushed by the tires or the fate of the little ones in the back, about to roll into traffic, to the projectile-vomiting on-looker – and back to last week Altman-esque scene with the Bada Bing’s employees and guests admiring the collateral damage in the form of a crushed motorcylist on Rt. 17 – Chase was making a clear point about what it is that he is making, what it costs in terms of genre-mixing to make it, and our own relationship as viewers to the show…

(I’ve read on line that Phil’s death scene was filmed in my old hometown. Which wasn’t an altogether rough place, but wasn’t quite placid suburbia either. There was one night when my buddy and I rolled into a gas station / quickimart for some gas and cigarettes, when we noticed that there was a guy dead by gunshot laying on the tarmac of the parking lot. Being nihilistic (read: stupid) 17 year olds, we went into the quickimart anyway, where the clerk (whose demeanor suggested that he’d seen this sort of thing before) informed us that we couldn’t buy our Mountain Dews, nor our Marlboro Lights, as there was “an ongoing police investigation, dude”.)

Back to the final scene. I have to admit that I was hoping for one of the many variations on “discovery that Tony and Carmela are really only working stiffs / bourgie escapees whose fantasy of a more interesting life we have been viewing,” and in a weird way we almost get there with the end of the show. What are we supposed to take away from the locale of the final scene, all the workingclassers with their flannel and Members Only jackets, the frigging Weeblos with their creepy Scout Leaders, and the like. Where have we, with the family, returned to? No bling, no fancified mobsters – the end of the show takes us back down the hill that Tony’s subdivision is parked on top of, and begs us to paranoically identify almost every person in the restaurant as a potential murderer, while we simultaneously watch as Meadow painstaking parallel parks her Beemer.

Question: can anyone think of good literary or cinematic examples of this sort of ending, the abrupt stop right in the middle of things? I’ve seen a few in various comment threads, and I know there are some novelistic examples, but I’m wondering what all of you can come up with…

more to come…

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 11, 2007 at 3:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. You may have seen this, but it confirms in more detail what I thought about the recent evolution of the Mafia, how it’s maybe a bit too material to propagate itself even as incompetence and inefficiency continue, amounting often to only virtual show:

    I didn’t see any of these last ‘Sopranos’, but had read about this last night. Yes, in answer to your question, and it’s always the most artful in this sort of thing to leave it in the middle. I think there are dozens of examples of French films doing this for decades, and by the 60s we’d caught up with the more frequent unhappy ending. But, short of time, the best example for me is always Kubrick’s refitting of ‘The Shining’, so intelligent furious Stephen King had to do a television version with his original, and vastly inferior to my mind, ending. Only because a friend kept telling me how much better the book was did I read my one Stephen King novel. It was loathsome–the ending has the old mountain hotel blown up and the Scatman Crothers character, the Shelley Duvall character, and the little boy are all escapees from the evil, ending up by some burbling brook, for chrissake. Kubrick really did a number here: Shelley and the boy slip out, but Scatman Crothers has already been axed in the chest, and the building is left alone to wax and wane in a horror that would hardly hold up as a story to police even if the little boy does have ‘the shining’: I don’t think authorities would buy that as a reason to raze the hotel. It’s a thousand times more horrifying, and you see Nicholson as in a previous incarnation in an old photo in the ballroom, with the music of ‘Till We Meet Again’ (I believe, it’s been some time) going, so that, for once, reincarnation is used not as a religious belief but rather as a narrative device, and very effectively. Earlier, when ‘the bad stuff’, liquor, gets Nicholson to talking with the old ghosts who inhabit the hotel a little more effectively in the snowbound off months, ‘Mister Grady’, who’s chopped up his wife and kids, as ghost, inquires very formally of Nicholson about attempts to ‘introduce something’ into ‘this situation’. This was brilliant, calling this desire to further this inert evil as a desirable situation.

    The exact opposite was done with Whitley Strieber’s ‘The Hunger’, which is the only good vampire novel I’ve read (I can’t stand the Anne Rice person), and the horror was continued at the end–which is very like ending in the middle; it’s not packaged off, so it stays with you and leaves you unprotected. The film ruins this brilliant ending, and has Susan Sarandon triumphant over Catherine Deneuve, which does not quite constitute ‘movie magic’ as well as failing to deliver the horror: when you see her at the end, she has no standing as a ‘noble vampire’, and ‘nouveau riche vampire in London high-rise’ just doesn’t play.

    patrick j. mullins

    June 11, 2007 at 1:32 pm

  2. Those are good examples of something like what happens here, but (and it helps to have seen it I suppose) I mean literally pulling the plug right in the middle of the scene, as if (but only as if, I guess) someone pulled the “tape” (hah!) out and cut the thing randomly with scissors and that would be the ending. Not just an ambiguous final shot, but something that looks like the tv broke. (This is why the move is so true to tv/film/video as a form – novels stop when the prose stops – you can see the end coming, linger over the final line etc… And even a sudden cut of the lights in theater leaves bodies on stage, the curtain shutting etc…) This was instantaneous – a shock effect…


    June 11, 2007 at 1:39 pm

  3. This is the first I heard of the Sopranos episode — haven’t seen it, but I love the trick as you describe it. It seems peripherally similar to a lot of the gags experimental literature attempts, but you’re right — the waning number of pages in the right hand is always a material tip-off. I think the best examples are more pedestrian, as in The Brothers Karamazov when you’re down to 20 pages and thinking, “Wait, I still have so many more questions” and so you intentionally slow down your reading, as if that will add pages to the book. Or, I mean, that’s how it was for me.

    I think a better Kubrick example is Eyes Wide Shut, but still there is no technical breakdown. I’ve often thought the jail-cell switch in Lynch’s Lost Highway would read really well, and as it’s already in the middle it might constitute a breakdown.

    What about Quentin’s story in The Sound and the Fury — you can see his psyche crumble as its manifested in Faulkner’s writing; Quentin’s scholasticism loses focus together with grammar and punctuation up until he supposedly kills himself and breaks off the narrative.

    Adam R

    June 12, 2007 at 3:37 pm

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