Is Stewart Silverman Good for the Jews?

Mob Experts on The Sopranos, Week 4

Is Stewart Silverman Good for the Jews?

Mob Experts on The Sopranos, Week 4

Is Stewart Silverman Good for the Jews?
Talking television.
March 29 2004 10:49 AM

Mob Experts on The Sopranos, Week 4

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Dear Jeff, Jerry,

I am moved by your response to my physical stature, but I have little of significance to say about it. Sono io. And I am delighted that you recognize the sociolinguistic analysis that went into the enunciation of my searing expletive. These things are not as easy as they seem. Needless to say, when I first read my lines I discovered parts of myself I never knew existed. As I pondered the character of Stewart Silverman, I began to grasp the inner necessity of the hard "g" in my "motherfucking." Our Italian-American brothers and our African-American brothers might surrender the concluding letter of the exclamation, so as to establish some integrity on the street.

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But Stewart Silverman lives in perfect horror of the street. He doesn't even park on the street. A derangingly materialistic co-religionist who dreams frantically of "Wedding of the Week" and waits a whole year for some stupid car in which he can idle for endless hours in traffic east of Quogue every weekend of every summer, the vulgar Zegna-swaddled brother of a Goldman Sachs mandarin whose son's siman tov u'mazel tov is provided by a pulchritudinous and racially diverse bunch of shellfish-eating chicks in tight off-the-shoulder gowns—such a fellow is a long way from authenticity. And so he would land very hard on that "g". He didn't go to BU for nothing. This is a man who is this week boasting to anybody who will listen that he once flew into West Palm on the same plane as Peter Bacanovic. In sum: motherfuckinggg.

Who did I meet? Just about everybody who was in my episode. Not on the set, which was an all-nighter at the New Jersey Botanical Gardens, where I had the honor of being the martini; it was about 4 in the morning, and I nailed it on the third take (my director was either very pleased or very tired). And not in my trailer, where there were just a lot of drugs and women. No, the real encounter with The Sopranos came at Silvercup Studios a few weeks earlier, where the cast of the episode assembled to read through the entire script. This was enormously groovy. I hasten to add that the collective anguish at the early whacking of the busty, brassy Lorraine Calluzzo was palpable. My fleeting impressions, from a humble place at the table: Michael Imperioli is a talented sweetheart. Lorraine Bracco is a genuinely intelligent woman with the rare gift (these days, the almost unimaginable gift) of holding her eros in reserve. James Gandolfini is a completely authoritative actor whom I would not care to know. Even when he read his lines lightly in the run-through, he gave the lie to the maxim that nobody is indispensable. Peter Bogdanovich is risibly self-important. Steve Buscemi is unexpectedly comfortable in his febrile body and an extremely nice guy. (We went upstairs to wardrobe together, he for his shorts and me for my tux, except that I inadvertently wandered into the wardrobe room of Sex and the City, which made me think affectionately of Robespierre.)

Robert Loggia—he was the first actor whose name I ever knew, because as a boy I watched him raptly on Sunday evenings in Flatbush when he played Elfego Baca for Walt Disney, and he did nothing at Silvercup to disabuse me of my youthful admiration. I regret my small role in the termination of his services, but I was set up. Jerry Adler was very welcoming. Dominic Chianese was not present, alas; and even more bitterly I note that I came too late for Annabella Sciorra. David Chase presided over it all like a Balzacian demiurge. (His show put me in mind of Balzac long before I got to know him.) Now, about Edie Falco: Get over it. From my distance across a vast room she seemed crushingly earnest. Myself, I have gotten over Carmela, too. She is no different from the rest of them; and her ostentatious truthfulness toward Tony is just a paradoxical form of hypocrisy, since she will not act on what she knows about him in any way that would deprive her of the blandishments of his crimes. She is offended by adultery, not by robbery and murder.

Good for the Jews? God, you're provincial. But OK, since you insist on tribalizing the discussion: I regard the Freed-Silverman wedding, and its immortalization in this episode of The Sopranos, as another milestone in the normalization of the Jewish people. You are correct in your observation that everybody in this show, every individual and every group, is harshly rendered. More than anything else about this extraordinary enterprise, I admire its anti-idealizing energy. This has a deeply humanizing effect. It certainly serves as a fine weekly antidote to ethnic self-love, which long ago in America replaced ethnic self-hatred as the prevalent affliction. And what saves the show's disenchanted view of Italians and Jews and blacks—and men and women and fathers and mothers and sons and daughters—from the sins of stereotype is its complexity and its compassion: There is no gloating at these banal monsters. A good deal of The Sopranos' humor—it is finally, I think, a dark comedy—is owed to its creators' sympathy for its ridiculous people. (I exclude Dr. Melfi from that latter company: She is the Archimedean point outside this squalid world, the only person with a scruple about deceit.) It is ironic that The Sopranos has become so glamorous, because it owes its power in part to its loss of interest in glamour. If everyone in this show is made to seem homely, well, most of the human universe is homely; and most of the Jewish universe, too. I have always been fascinated by people with narrow horizons. It is astonishing how many fundamental human perplexities can take place under a very low sky.

Still, I see your point. Mel Gibson is making hundreds of millions of dollars by portraying the Jews as Christ-killers, and here I am on HBO, a Jew in a yarmulke sitting shiva for a Benz. What have I done? But if you knew how much the brothers Silverman gave to Israel Bonds last year …

Faithfully,
Leon

Leon Wieseltier is the literary editor of the New Republic.