The Chicago Syndicate: "The Sopranos" in 7 Minutes

Montana West World

Montana West World

Sunday, April 08, 2007

"The Sopranos" in 7 Minutes

Like mob bosses of legend, “The Sopranos” is pensive, brooding and austere. Heavy silences, broken by spells of rage, pervade David Chase’s masterpiece, which enters its final season on Sunday. “The Sopranos” is not glib. It does not have truck with glibness. But lately, as viewers wait for the final run of this HBO drama to start, a “Sopranos” with a very different pace has been making the rounds. This “Sopranos” is not by Mr. Chase; it does not appear on HBO and cannot be described as pensive, brooding or austere. Instead it is hyperglib, antic and rendered at an auctioneer’s pace. And where “The Sopranos” has so far taken around 77 hours to deliver the dark saga of family and crime in New Jersey, this other “Sopranos,” which tells the same story, lasts only 7 minutes 36 seconds.

Paul Gulyas and Joe Sabia, recent college graduates living in Los Angeles, first posted their video “Seven Minute Sopranos” to YouTube on March 29. It is an audacious effort by two of Mr. Chase’s fans eager to prove their loyalty to his creation. But, as they know, it is also an act of violence.

“We included what stood out, what flowed better or images that people would like to see,” Mr. Gulyas said. “But we kind of adapted the story to our own taste. It’s so reductionist to what David Chase has done.”

What will Mr. Chase think, then, of the video Cliffs Notes to his Iliad? “The show’s really about Tony’s psyche,” Mr. Gulyas, who is 23, said, naming the show’s central character, the glowering crime boss who is riven by desire, fury and doubt. “But this video boils things down to one premise. I’m not sure Chase would like that.”

According to a publicist for HBO, Mr. Chase does in fact like it. His assistant showed him the video on the set of the series finale, and he laughed all the way through it, said the publicist, Quentin Schaffer. “It reminded him how much has happened during the run of the series,” Mr. Schaffer said.

Having seen each episode of “The Sopranos” from three to seven times, Mr. Gulyas composed the staccato script from memory, hitting every plot point that seemed relevant. He also proposed complementary clips, estimating their places on his DVDs from memory.

Mr. Sabia, a childhood friend of Mr. Gulyas from Connecticut, then edited the video using Final Cut Pro. The process took the friends 100 hours, longer than a marathon of all six seasons of “The Sopranos.”

To date “Seven Minute Sopranos” has attracted around 80,000 views and counting. Ilene S. Landress, an executive producer of “The Sopranos,” loves the video and insists that it stay on YouTube. (Some companies, citing copyright concerns, have pulled material off this video-sharing site.)

Another “Sopranos” executive producer, Matthew Weiner, said, “The guys really understand not only what happened in the show, but they displayed their knowledge with humor and love.”

On Tuesday “Seven Minute Sopranos” was featured on the home page of iFilm, a video-sharing site owned by Viacom. (In a twist that wasn’t lost on HBO this meant that Viacom, which also owns HBO’s cable competitor Showtime, highlighted what amounts to a trailer for an HBO show.) Almost immediately “Seven Minute Sopranos” has gained Mr. Gulyas and Mr. Sabia respect on “Sopranos” fan sites, as well as with YouTube commenters. “That was amazing,” wrote nicoleredbaron218, “you didn’t miss a single Detail.”

“Seven Minute Sopranos” is indeed a sizable feat. Virtually everything from the series seems to have been crammed in, from the giant plot tectonics — the twists that determine who lives and who dies — to the intricate subplots and even the comic relief.

In addition to the most indelible story lines, fans can also fleetingly revisit the attempt to consign Livia to a nursing home, the arson at Artie’s, Meadow’s indiscreet soccer coach, Christopher’s near-damnation, Janice’s theft of the Russian’s prosthesis, Ralph’s son’s deadly arrow game, Junior’s tumble down the courthouse steps, A. J.’s attempt to kill Junior and Paulie’s discovery that his aunt is his mother.

Nor are significant visual moments omitted. Ginny’s secret Twix stash gets a close-up, as do the ducks, the bear, Paulie’s shoe and the pillow Tony tries to use to smother his mother. These indelible images, combined with a multilayered soundtrack — which often plays simultaneously the show’s score, its dialogue, its sound effects and Mr. Sabia’s tongue-twisting voice-over — allow “Seven Minute Sopranos” to convey information with extreme efficiency.

In an inspired flourish the dialogue and the voice-over periodically line up exactly. When Mr. Sabia, who is also 23, summarizing Carmela Soprano’s reaction to the news that her husband is seeing a therapist, says, “She thinks that’s great,” Mr. Sabia, who edited the piece, synched his voice up with that of Edie Falco, as Carmela. He says “thinks that’s great” just as she says “think that’s great.” The brief duet makes the point. And that point — the duet in a major key, followed by a breath — is especially affecting when Carmela reverses her enthusiasm for therapy in the next scene, having learned that Tony’s therapist is a woman. Standing on a balcony she rains a half-dozen black valises down on her husband and curses at him to leave the house. This is the first of several times Mr. Sabia and Mr. Gulyas use this scene. It becomes shorthand for Carmela’s indignation.

The repetition of this stagecraft has become many commenters’ favorite part of “Seven Minute Sopranos.” But it’s also where Mr. Gulyas and Mr. Sabia make clear that they bring a critic’s eye to the action of the show. But what statement are they making with the repetition? Something about the redundancy of Ms. Falco’s performance? Or perhaps the cyclical nature of Tony and Carmela’s marriage?

The more you study “Seven Minute Sopranos,” the more mischievous it seems. It’s an intensive work of the imagination. And it’s far from sycophantic to “The Sopranos.” Some of the video’s greatest fans on YouTube are not fans of the show at all. A user named underb0ss especially appreciated the glibness of the script: “that was amazing! tho it made the sopranos look so stupid ... i love that part in season 6 ‘tonys shot, goes in a coma. Get slapped by monk. Comes out of coma’ lol.”

So far Mr. Chase and “The Sopranos” crew seem not to realize that, for some, the video can be interpreted this way. They spent this week working long days wrapping their series. But what would happen if Mr. Chase were to discover that some people take “Seven Minute Sopranos” as a sendup of his show, and not a homage?

Mr. Sabia and Mr. Gulyas can be forgiven for being on edge about that. They may seem like made men now, but even a little joke at the capo’s expense is never a good thing. And in the “Sopranos” world, you can lose your favored status as quickly as you get it. No one knows that plotline better than they do.

Thanks to Virginia Heffernan

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