NEW YORK – A cavalcade of veteran actors who collectively have appeared in dozens if not hundreds of roles as mobsters over the past several decades adorned the AMC Theater at Times Square on May 17 for the premiere of Back in the Day (BITD), a film written by William DeMeo, who also stars in the leading role, and directed by Paul Borghese, with cinematography by George Mitas. The National Herald interviewed DeMeo and Mitas in the May 14 edition.
DeMeo plays boxer Anthony Rodriguez, a half-Italian, half-Puerto Rican kid from Brooklyn, whose rise to the top is tainted by tragedy and brushes with local mobsters. His rapport with Matty (played by Joseph D’Onofrio) is reminiscent of Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci as brothers in Raging Bull. “A lot of people said that to me,” he told TNH.
Both DeMeo and Mitas were humble in accepting congratulations from the many who offered it. The latter told TNH, regarding his cinematography, “it’s all about telling a story.”
Among the luminaries of the cinematic mob elite on hand were Dominick Chianese and Vincent Pastore – both, like DeMeo, Sopranos alums – and Lillo Brancato, another former Sopranos cast member who subsequently got in trouble with the law and served time in prison.
At the Q&A session following the film, Brancato expressed heartfelt thanks to DeMeo for giving him another chance, and DeMeo responded that he looked into Brancato’s eyes and saw that he was a changed man.
In a profoundly genuine outpouring of gratitude and praise – completely opposite of a plastic, disingenuous Hollywood atmosphere – DeMeo, Borghese, and other cast members on hand, including DeMeo’s 17-year-old son, Cristian, who played a key role as the young
Anthony Rodriguez, discussed their experience and joy in being part of the film.
The film’s official release date was May 20.
Back in the Day (2016)
This latest boxing/mafia film has many twists, turns, and surprises. Of six directions in which I predicted the storyline would turn next, I was only correct about one!
The main event is a fight for the middleweight championship of the world, and the result is known to the audience within the first few minutes of the film. Writer and lead actor At the premiere, William DeMeo said “I purposely didn’t want it to be like Rocky, where the fight’s outcome is the last scene, so I let the audience know who won right away.”
DeMeo spends the rest of the film recounting his tumultuous life story to legendary boxing broadcaster Larry Merchant (the 85-year-old played himself in the film, the tempo of his speech a bit slower than during all his years on HBO, but the questions just as probing).
The film takes us back to young Anthony (played by DeMeo’s 17-year-old son, Cristian), enduring racism on the streets of Brooklyn, particularly by Dominick, while Anthony’s best friend Matty and Maria (Maria May), the girl of his dreams, support him, though none of the three stands up to the neighborhood bully – whose father is in the mob.
Eventually, the neighborhood’s chief gangster, Enzo (Michael Madsen), takes Anthony under his wing and encourages him to become a fighter. Gino Fratelli (Alec Baldwin) asks to see him and gives his blessing too. “That’s Enzo’s boss, right?” Matty asks. “He’s everyone’s boss,” Anthony replies.
The Anthony/Matty screen chemistry is so reminiscent of brothers Jake and Joey LaMotta (Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci) in Raging Bull that even troublemaker Nicky (Lillo Brancato) wises off to Matty, calling him a “Joe Pesci wannabee.”
The tension is gripping and the violence is graphic. George Mitas’ cinematography effectively captures the stark reality of murder. In one scene, there is a bullet hole in the victim’s chest with smoke coming out of it. And just like that, we are taken to a soft, romantic scene between Tony and Maria (as an adult played by Shannen Doherty). There is a fight – nearly a fatal one – that broke out all because of a cigarette. DeMeo brilliantly takes us to a time and a place where the fate – or loss – of one’s life can depend on the most trivial dispute.
One by one, the people closest to Anthony leave him, in one way or another. At one point, he loses the heart to fight, but ultimately regains it. And his trusted trainer Eddie (Danny Glover) is always by his side. And the boxing scenes are very realistic; far more like an actual match than the farfetched 20 unanswered punches in a row scenarios displayed in some films.
Anthony is clearly the film’s hero. Dominick (Ronnie Marmo) the undisputed villain. But there are plenty of shades of gray, including imperfect parents and lovers, and killers who have big hearts.
There’s even a cameo by Mike Tyson, whose own life has been too complex to fall into one category. “There’s no one I wanted for this role other than Mike Tyson,” DeMeo said. “They offered me other boxers, but it had to be Mike.”
Like DeMeo, Tyson is Brooklyn. The film is Brooklyn – a true homage to what Ed Norton (Art Carney) used to call: “the garden spot of the world.”
DeMeo, Director Paul Borghese, and the film’s entire aura is too authentic to be Hollywood. But even as the conclusion is not a classic Hollywood ending, it is a message of love, and one that caused the audience to erupt in its loudest applause of all.