Perfect Preludes: The Sopranos

A lot of the time, the opening credits of TV shows are throwaway montages of moments set to theme songs that serve as trailers for what the shows are about. A sizzle reel of saccharin that can be comforting but ultimately forgettable.

However, they can also be as iconic, memorable and important as the shows they introduce.

When done right, they serve as a prelude that transports us from the comfort of our living rooms into the worlds on our television.

The Overlook’s Perfect Preludes series shines a light on the sequences that are conduits through which we can escape our mundane existence and exist in our favourite fictional worlds.

First up…

The Sopranos

The rolling bass and drums. The roof of the Lincoln Tunnel shuttling over our heads. A high-pitched wail from some brass instrument signals our exit from New York and the start of our journey into New Jersey.

We exit the tunnel and are greeted with the lyrics:

You woke up this morning, got yourself a gun.

We’re on our way into the world of organised crime.

After climbing a ramp onto the freeway, we see a sign for the New Jersey Turnpike and then see an image of the New York skyline framed in the passenger-side mirror. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center look back at us.

These emblems of legitimate business and trading with the world are left behind as we make our way into the depths of a world that does not stand for these values of legitimacy. We are leaving a “civilised” world behind. The thriving skyscrapers of New York are merely reflections in a mirror.

It is also interesting to note that Lorraine Bracco’s name is placed over this image. In the series, she is an emblem of civilised culture herself. As Tony’s therapist, she holds her decorum and values whilst qualifying and interpreting Tony’s struggles in a professional capacity. She acts as a mirror for him to deal with his emotional, personal and business issues.

As Dr. Jennifer Melfi, she is a caring academic eye on the borders of Tony’s life. A New York skyline in his rear-view mirror.

The journey continues. We make our way through the New Jersey Turnpike toll booth and catch the first glimpse of our protagonist and the driver of the car, Tony Soprano.

Cigar in mouth, Tony is driving. Looking on from the passenger side of the car, we are along for the ride.

We continue along the road. A plane flies over our head and trucks pass us by on adjacent roads. Tony lights up his cigar. We are about to see his business and his heritage.

Snapshots of Tony’s business fronts fly past our window: haulage trucks, boats on the port near the Goethals bridge and waste management facilities.

Tony then exhales his cigar smoke. He is watching over his empire.

Now his business life has been hinted at, it’s time for some clues towards his personal background.

Out of the window, we spy a plane taking off from Newark airport. We then see the Statue of Liberty, and then a sign for Elizabeth, one of the largest towns and ports in New Jersey.

All these images placed together instil the backdrop of the series. New Jersey is a place of industry that has historically been fueled by immigrants trying to make a better life for themselves.

The looming silhouette of Lady Liberty is a subtle allusion to the Godfather movies, as well as a reminder of New Jersey’s historic immigrant culture.

These allusions to the area are cemented further as we work our way along the freeway.

We pass industrial landscapes. Factories spouting smoke from industrial sized chimneys. High bridges over packed docks with shipping containers and construction sites.

We catch Tony’s reflection in the rear view mirror. He is content while he exhales smoke. This place is what he knows. A place of industry and opportunity.

We cross a bridge that seems to take us closer to the urban landscape behind the industrial workforce. We speed past a church that rises high above its parish. Like the Statue of Liberty, it is another symbol of the culture of the world we are entering.

After passing a desolate train station and a grey body of water flanked by dead trees, we seem to be reaching some form of neighbourhood.

We pass a gas station as Tony takes a slow turn onto what seems like a road in a town as opposed to the faceless roads of the turnpike. There are houses and businesses here.

Another roadside clue tells us where we are. This is where the workers live.

Like the statue of the carpet fitter, the blue-collar workers who live here hold up the economy and lives of their local community.

We’ve seen Tony’s business empire, and now we are seeing where he is from.

We drive past a packed cemetery that sits at the side of the road, and then a man on his way to work with his bagged lunch. The coupling of these two images tells us that this is a place where working class folk live and die.

Then we pass a storefront that is at the centre of the series. A home away from home where Tony and his “colleagues” conduct a lot of their business. Satriale’s Pork Store.

Satriale’s is an emblem that sits right in the heart of this New Jersey town. It is a store that was originally an honest business, but is now a front for organised crime. It stands as an old school example of how the community is exploited for money by the mafia.

This is not only where Tony is from, it is where he runs his business from.

Satriale’s, the image of systemic mafioso oppression, is followed by a glimpse of a culturally diverse group of young pedestrians walking down the sidewalk.

The juxtaposition of these two images reflects a thematic question that is asked throughout The Sopranos: how can the traditions of the mafia survive and thrive in the 21st Century?

We look over at Tony in the driver’s seat. He tokes his cigar and seems to ponder this question.

Then we drive past an aptly named pizzeria.

The garish font atop this small red brick building ties together the old first generation Italian immigrant style pizzeria with a new American style of advertising. It highlights the fact that we are in an area with a high Italian American population.

It is also another allusion to the central idea of the TV show: old school Italian traditions of business thriving in a modern American context.

Now we’re on the homestretch, the music seems to be building to some sort of climax as we pass different neighbourhoods.

The houses start off small and close together. Each neighbourhood that passes gets bigger and more spacious until we reach an isolated road. This road eventually leads to the long uphill driveway of the Soprano house.

We have made our way through the poorer areas and moved up several social statuses on our travels. There’s money around here.

The opening lyrics repeat themselves as we begin to ascend the driveway.

At the top of the driveway, Tony parks up and exits. We have arrived at the top of the mountain. This is the vantage point from which Tony looks over his empire.

The four word epithet from the song repeats itself:

Got yourself a gun.

The title of the show (with a gun in place of the ‘r’) rolls in as the screen fades to black around it.

Our short journey as his passenger has set the scene beautifully, and now we have finally arrived in Tony’s world.

We get out with him, and get ourselves a gun.

RM.

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