Commentary Tracks Of The Damned: Romance & Cigarettes

Commentary Tracks Of The Damned: Romance & Cigarettes

Crimes:

— Tittering endlessly over silly, comically exaggerated sex acts and crude language, without really coming to terms with its intended themes about how sexuality, infidelity, loyalty, and love intersect

— Tossing in a bunch of pop hits, which the characters lip-sync to or karaoke awkwardly over, sometimes doing both in one big, sloppy number

— Generally being an incoherent, self-indulgent, crazed mess that was probably a lot more fun for the cast than for viewers

Defenders: Writer-director John Turturro and his 14-year-old son, Amadeo Turturro.

Tone of commentary: Weird, but cheerful and companionable. Amadeo appears in one shot and was clearly a sounding board when the film was being made, but largely has no formal association with the film. But he mentions being on Turturro's commentary track for his other writing-directing project, Illuminata, when he was only 8.

For a 14-year-old, he's well-spoken and surprisingly mature, with a good memory. He talks intelligently about the film's motifs and techniques, having learned so much about it from "our many dinners at The Gingko Leaf, where you were expressing the week's accomplishments." He prompts his father to discuss particular memories, and reminds him of what he said about a given scene while writing or shooting it. Often, he even explains Turturro to himself: "Here comes the continuation of your Samson And Delilah obsession. You love that movie, and you love the story. You can't get enough of that." His sentences often begin with "Do you want to tell the story about…" or "Do you want to talk about…"

Turturro is far pettier in his focus on nuts and bolts. He spends a lot of time praising his sequences and talking about what family members or friends appear in them, what the characters are thinking, how the scene compares to the storyboards, what happened during filming, and how great everybody was. He frequently explains what his producers, the Coen brothers, thought about given scenes. (They generally loved them.) He's so caught up in the viewing experience that he tends to talk in incomplete sentences and trail off, whereupon Amadeo jumps in to prompt him to complete his thoughts.

At times, though, they devolve entirely into a close, almost brotherly personal relationship. At one point, they giggle hysterically over an exaggeratedly accented line from a fantasy sequence that got cut, and they each repeat it over and over: "You keel me, beetch!" Later, during a hugely overplayed sex scene between James Gandolfini and Kate Winslet, Turturro says, "Instead of me having a father-son talk with Amadeo about sex, I figured I'd just show him this scene, and then he'd figure it out for himself. He's 14, so that's enough. But he's going to see this stuff eventually, so what are you gonna do?" Amadeo laughs and says that Turturro normally "talks about really disgusting things," but is attempting to sound serious and "so very responsible" because he knows he's being taped.

The duo's cutest, most familial moment probably comes when Amadeo abruptly says "His hat is great, Steve [Buscemi]'s hat." John: "I been using that, actually, for my rehearsals. Do you want that hat?" "It's a great hat. It's awesome." "I'll get it. It would fit you." "I would love that." "Okay, I'll get it for you." "Thanks." "Yeah."

What went wrong: Turturro never references the difficulty of getting the film made, or (very briefly, and two years later) to theaters; he's entirely positive about the experience. He does say he wanted to insert a lot more songs—more than 25—but then he found out how expensive it was to get the clearances for well-known numbers, so he cut back to "about one every 10 pages." "Piece Of My Heart" was particularly hard to get the rights for; Turturro says he "had to beg, on my knees and then on my stomach."

Similarly, when Turturro abruptly cuts to a bizarre fantasy segment featuring Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, and other cast members in Samson And Delilah costumes, he says it was supposed to be a clip from the film, but "we couldn't get it, they wouldn't give it to us. Instead, I think this was really better… It's my answer to Gladiator. I think that's what Gladiator lacked, actually. It didn't have enough cheese. There was not enough cheese on that pizza."

Comments on the cast: Turturro on star James Gandolfini: "You really need someone like James, who can be real and big and human and do things, and then you can forgive him for 'em, because he's got a real human quality." Later, he adds that Gandolfini "has got a very interesting quality, almost a femininity to him. Interesting. He's wonderful acting opposite a woman, because he really acts with them, and he just has good chemistry with every woman he worked with in the film. With guys, too, but he's exceptional with girls. With the ladies."

Turturro on Kate Winslet, during a scene in which she dances around in a short skirt and bra, vigorously shaking her assets: "And those are her breasts. She was breastfeeding at the time. Those are her breasts. Those are real." "There's definitely a clip of you showing her how to do the dance. You were very into that, like you wanted to show people exactly what you wanted." "I redid a lot of this dance. That was my idea, this jump onto the bed."

Turturro on Mandy Moore: "Mandy has a natural naiveté to her which she hasn't lost completely, and that brings a lot to someone who's supposed to be a young girl. If she's too knowing, then she wouldn't be going out with [Bobby Cannavale's character] Fryburg." "I dunno." "Though I'd go out with him." "You see the attractiveness in Fryburg, completely."

Turturro on Christopher Walken: "Chris is really, as John Malkovich says, [Purring, lisping Malkovich imitation.] He'th the greatetht existential actor in America. In the world!'"

Inevitable dash of pretension: Discussing the protagonists' tall-grass-lined back yard, Turturro Sr. says it has a "Nights Of Cabiria kind of feeling, they're at the edge of nowhere… I just thought it was really eloquent." He compares the crude sexual language to Charles Bukowski's poetry, and repeatedly brings up the inspiration of William Eggleston's photographs. One particularly mannered scene where Moore and Sarandon babble incoherently over each other, he says was "written like a song," without explaining. A shot with one person in the foreground and another in the background is called "kind of Kurosawa." Finally, he sums up the entire project as "Charles Bukowski writes The Honeymooners, with music. It's real, you know?"

Commentary in a nutshell: Turturro: "The style of the film… [Laughs.] It's its own style, don't you think?" Amadeo: "It's almost your kind of thing that you tried to do in Illuminata, it's almost like that sort of selective scenes in it, and you took that idea of going into a fantasy, but you don't really. It's a serious moment, and you're trying to escape it, because you can't, you have no other means." "That's right."

More Commentary Tracks Of The Damned