Michael Imperioli is primarily known for his brilliantly vulnerable rendition of a rising mobster in The Sopranos, but his artistic range goes far beyond that one show. A writer as well as a musician, Imperioli has worked as a screenwriter, played for his band Zopa, and has penned a coming-of-age novel The Perfume Burned His Eyes for his son Vadim. Set in New York City, the book was his attempt to reconstruct his own childhood.
Imperioli recalled: “I grew up outside of the city. If you take the train 25 minutes north, you would end up in my old bedroom. I wanted to go to Columbia with my best friend and applied the first year they went co-ed but didn’t get in. The next choice was SUNY Albany. The night before I was supposed to move in, I told my parents it wasn’t for me. I wanted to go to acting school. Instead of college, I took acting classes. Through music and movies, I was always attracted to that New York of the late ’60s and ’70s.”
Adding, “I practice Buddhism, which is about dismantling the ego. The book I’m reading now is Cynicism and Magic by Chögyam Trungpa. He talks about the ego. What I learned through Buddhism is you can relate to the ego as something separate. Ego, if you look at it in a healthy way, can be about confidence. I’ve dedicated my life to being an artist, be it writing or music. I’ve been doing all of this stuff since the beginning. It just wasn’t public until later.”
For Criterion’s periodic feature, Imperioli was invited to select some of the films that had a formative influence on him and his selection does not disappoint. Ranging from cult classics by John Cassavetes to the psychedelic, nightmarish vision of Terry Gilliam, this list proves that Michael Imperioli’s taste in cinema is simply fantastic, to say the least.
While discussing Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, the actor commented: “The tension in the audience before it began was nothing I had ever experienced before in a movie house. The melting pot of moviegoers sat in stillness and silence and finally stood up and applauded the screen as the end credits rolled. We walked out of the theatre transformed, more united, tolerant, and together than we were two hours before. How many films have ever been able to do that?”.
He also praised the directorial work of Fassbinder, claiming that the German pioneer was capable of creating magic with the cinematic medium: “One frame of Fassbinder is all you need to know you have entered his world and are in his hands… [Fox and His Friends] is authentic, honest, and bleak, and Fassbinder portrays the seedy demimonde of Munich’s hustlers, drug dealers, and misfits as only he can. Both critical and sympathetic at the same time.”
Check out Michael Imperioli’s brilliantly eclectic list of his top picks from around the world, featuring directors such as Spike Lee and Pier Paolo Pasolini. See the entire list below.
Michael Imperioli’s 10 favourite films:
- A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)
- Opening Night (John Cassavetes, 1977)
- The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1976)
- The In-Laws (Arthur Hiller, 1979)
- Fox and His Friends (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1975)
- Mamma Roma (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1962)
- Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
- Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969)
- Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
- Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955)
Out of all these world-class masterpieces, Imperioli singled out A Woman Under the Influence as his favourite: “The most honest on-screen depiction of mental illness ever. Cassavetes perfectly nails the heartbreak and frustration that eclipses a family when a loved one’s sanity slips away. It’s at times both gut-wrenching and oddly hilarious, and Cassavetes manages to make gorgeous cinema with colours and composition.”
Continuing, “Besides the impeccable, monumental performances of Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk, the supporting cast is flawless, including both Cassavetes’s and Rowlands’s own real-life mothers, Katherine and Lady, and in particular George Dunn in his role as Mabel’s one-night stand Garson Cross. In any other film the character would be played as a cad the audience would be rooting against. Not so in a Cassavetes film, where the roles of hero and villain shift moment to moment.”