By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The creator of the popular "Sopranos" is back, this time on the big screen with a new saga set in the New Jersey suburbs filled with teenagers and rock 'n' roll instead of mobsters and violence.
David Chase's cinema debut, "Not Fade Away", which premiered at the New York Film Festival, is a coming-of-age story set in the early 1960s, centered around a group of teens who form a band and taste the entwined allures of rock music and rebellion.
At the core of the story is Douglas, played by John Magaro with the sleepy eyes and curly mop of a young Bob Dylan, who aspires to become a singer and songwriter.
Along the way come friendships and conflicts among the band members and growing tension with Douglas' traditionally minded family, particularly his father, played by James Gandolfini.
Joining Gandolfini, best known as mobster Tony Soprano, in the making of "Not Fade Away" is another "Sopranos" alumnus, Steve Van Zandt. Van Zandt played mobster Silvio Dante on the hit HBO television series, produced and written by Chase, which ended five years ago.
A guitarist in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, Van Zandt served as music supervisor for "Not Fade Away" and taught the actors to play hits by Buddy Holly, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks in a 3-month musical studio "boot camp," he said at a press briefing in New York.
"They're a band now. They could perform at a party tonight," Van Zandt said. "It took me, like, 10 years to learn what they learned in three months."
Chase, 67, said the movie is immensely personal, but he stopped short of calling it autobiographical, despite his stint playing drums in a band as a teenager.
"We never got out of the basement," he said. "No one ever saw us."
"Not Fade Away" is infused with music, from the songs the band members learn to play to the ones they dream of playing, the ones they listen to and the music in other scenes viewers get to hear.
And the music illustrates freedom, as promised by rock 'n' roll as Douglas tries to follow his dream, and the safer choices made by the older generation, poignantly depicted by Gandolfini as he listens to "South Pacific" show tune "Bali Ha'i" in his tiny New Jersey home.
The movie grows out of the conflict between security and freedom, Chase said.
"Human beings are always in that conflict about 'I want to be part of something, I want to be babied, I want to be taken care of' and ... 'I'm free and I can do what I want and I'm my own person,'" he said.
Early reviews have ranged from very good to fair. Some critics praised Chase's sharp dialogue and his ability to capture the era's social and political changes, and one described Gandolfini's performance as Oscar-worthy.
But other critics said Chase failed to develop his characters well and called his plot and story-telling formulaic, bringing no fresh insight to its look at an endlessly scrutinized era in U.S. history.
"Not Fade Away" is slated for release in December by Paramount Pictures.
(Editing by Christine Kearney; Editing by Richard Chang)