Edgar Lee Masters’s preeminent book of American Gothic poetry, Spoon River Anthology, captivates with its unusual structure: each entry is framed as the ghostly (and often gossipy) monologue of a Spoon River resident now buried in the town cemetery. It’s an approach, to my pleasant surprise, that David Chase has adopted for his Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark. The film opens by panning through a graveyard, and as each headstone is passed, the decedent can be heard sharing his/her life story in voiceover. Finally, the camera settles on the marker of Christopher Moltisanti, whom Chase has tabbed to serve as the film’s posthumous, omniscient narrator.
Naturally, the late Christopher isn’t enamored with his “cousin” Tony Soprano, the man who choked him to death one dark night on Route 23. The film makes clever use of this grim fate, showing newborn Christopher’s sensitivity to Tony’s future dangerousness (the baby wails whenever teenage Tony tries to hold him). Many Saints also ends on an unholy note, accenting the sinister repercussions of Christopher’s association with Tony.
The Sopranos series was no stranger to horror (e.g., Tony’s disturbing dreams, Paulie’s haunting by the image of the Madonna in the Bada Bing, Christopher’s comatose vision of hell), so it’s only appropriate that similar darkness manifests in the prequel film.
The Many Saints of Newark is currently in theaters, and streaming on HBO Max.