“The Many Newark SaintsIs a prequel to HBO’s beloved “The Sopranos” series, but it’s set in a whole different piece of New Jersey. This movie takes place in the apartment buildings and Newark buildings of the 1960s and 1970s instead of the sprawling McMansions where Tony and much of his crew roamed on the series.
It is a city on a razor’s edge, with racial tensions and inequalities poised to explode into a dramatic conflagration of unrest. “The movie takes place pretty much before they all go to the suburbs,” says Bob Shaw, the film’s production designer. “They were still grouped together in the old quarter, living in these cramped spaces in a sort of ethnic enclave.”
A key issue for Shaw, director Alan Taylor and writer of “Many Saints” and creator of “Sopranos” David Chase was that downtown Newark had changed so much over the following decades – homes were demolished and replaced with apartment buildings or fitted with vinyl siding from a later era – that they had to turn a lot part of the movie in the Bronx.
There were a few scenes, however, that the creators of “Many Saints” thought could not be replicated on the highway. Shaw and his crew worked to recreate the 1967 riot while filming in Branford Place, a major shopping district that they outfitted with retro signs for bars and delis and vintage theater marquees. Cars were set on fire; smoke machines were used; and actors in National Guard uniforms raced through the streets in tanks and jeeps in pursuit of dozens of extras. Although filmed in 2019, the sequence has a greater emotional resonance following the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in the summer of 2020.
“It was such a sensitive material for our country and for our whole identity,” explains Kramer Morgenthau, director of photography for the film. “We knew we had to be precise and we knew we had to do it right. Sadly, what happened in 1967 still rings true today.
While the decor may be more urban than the one on the show, there are still some familiar traffic signs. A key scene where Tony is supposed to sit with Dickie took place on the doorstep of Holsten’s, the restaurant where the Sopranos dine in the series finale just before the series’ infamous fade-out. Very little had to be done to dress this place apart from fitting the restaurant with an awning appropriate for the time. Shaw was also tasked with recreating the back room of Satriale’s Pork Store, the slightly run-down hangout for the gangsters who make up the DiMeo crime family.
“The physical building – the walls, the windows – we haven’t changed much,” says Shaw. “It was kind of retro on the show, so we just removed a few layers of dust and 30 or 40 years of stuff from the walls and shelves. “
The team’s quest for historical accuracy extended to how the film was shot. Morgenthau used darker undertones in the 1960s footage and attempted to evoke the look of Kodachrome photography of the time. As the film progresses into the 1970s, the cinematographer injected more pastels, greens and blues into the palette, a nod to the flashier style of clothing and decor that characterized the disco era. .
An intense sense of responsibility hung over the whole project. “The Sopranos” is not only loved. It is considered the greatest spectacle ever to be produced and the spark that inspired the television renaissance of the aughts.
“There was tremendous pressure to do something special with this film because of the legacy of the series,” says Morgenthau. “It’s almost a piece of Americana at this point. But at some point, you just try to stop thinking about it and do your job.
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