The final step in the opening credit sequence is the title screen detailing ‘The Sopranos’. The viewer is presented with a black scene in the centre of which is the white block letter spelling out ‘The Sopranos’. This title screen itself may semiotically provide much information regarding the themes of the television programme once its layers of meaning are extricated and analysed. Treating firstly the importance of the simple colours of this screen- black and white- the themes of the show are visible.
The traditional semiotic meaning that is assigned to these two colours aid in the production of these themes. White is mostly explicitly recognised as the colour of the good, the virginal/pure in contrast to the assigning of the colour black to the evil, the mysterious, danger, death and malice. The assigning of meaning to these two colours can be traced back in anthropological terms to the Western worlds view of white people as being good whilst the ‘black’ people from the continent of Africa were inherently evil and not to be trusted.
This dichotomy was later applied to the notion of the ‘goodies’ versus the ‘baddies’ and can be seen in the title of graphics detailing a main theme of the show- the good guys or the police, reflected in the white, battling against the bad guys or Tony Soprano and his mafia family, reflected in the black. These colours can also represent the struggle in Tony’s world between right and wrong and his struggle with his morality and religious faith.
Throughout the series, Tony has many crises of faith and a few attacks of conscience.
Thus the black may reflect Tony’s dark side, with his underhand dealings and deadly intent, and the white may represent Tony’s faith, his belief in Catholicism and his need to do good in some form. However as the graphics show the black impedes on the white possibly illustrating the fact that Tony has a great struggle between right and wrong. To analyse the typography of the sequence it is again possible to find meaning implicitly embedded in it. The letters spelling out ‘The Sopranos’ are thick and have blunt edges.
The letters in the original are also large and white and stand out prominently from the black background. The typography used is illustrated below. This may be analysed semiotically as being a reflection of the character of Tony Soprano- solid and dependable with a large stature who is rough around the edges; possibly a reflection of his brutal streak. It may also serve to provide meaning about the Soprano family as a whole- large, close-knit and very prominent in society (reflected by the white standing out against the black background).
Finally the representation of the downward facing gun as spelling out the ‘R’ of ‘The Sopranos’ is important for the assigning of meaning also. According to Freud, the gun can be viewed as a phallic symbol, a representation of the male penis and thus is a reflection of the male sexual drive. The gun may connote power and male sexual potency along with aggression and danger. The sexual exploits of Tony Soprano and his power sexually as well as physically is a main theme of the show, and is referred to implicitly in the title graphics.
Thus it is possible to say that the title screen of the opening credit sequence of the show provides meaning semiotically through colour codes, typographic presentation and symbolic representation. Themes of the show such as the good versus the bad, violence and sexual prowess are all reflected through the simple yet highly effective title sequence. The opening credit sequence of ‘The Sopranos’ may also be analysed semiotically as one explores the assigning of meaning to maleness and indeed the image of the gangster i. e. Tony Soprano.
By analysing this sequence in-depth it is possible to detail information that the average viewer may neither implicitly nor explicitly decode whilst watching the television programme. The semiotic representation of Tony Soprano in the opening credit sequence reveals a lot about his character. Throughout the sequence Tony’s face is obscured by shadows and darkness, the lower part of his face i. e. from his nose down, is the only part visible. If one is to assign meaning to this it is possible to say that Tony is a mysterious man with a dark mind/ dark thoughts.
His face is obscured as he drives from New York to New Jersey; from work to home. It is only when he arrives home that Tony is fully visible/ fully illuminated. This reflects the idea that Tony’s work life is dark and mysterious, full of secret dealings and murders, and that his home life and his family provide him with the bright/highlights of his day. In the car, Tony is the only person visible. He steers the car suggesting that he is a person who is solely in control and in power. It also suggests that he is an actor in his own future, that he directs his life and controls his destiny.
This is again emphasised by the continuous close-up shots of Tony’s hands and arms. The affluence of Tony’s life and his materialism that is shown in the show is reflected in the opening sequences. There is a continual emphasis on Tony’s gold jewellery connoting opulence, richness and his carelessness with money. The cigar that Tony smokes is also a symbol with several layers of signification for this opulence but also on another layer of meaning it may be seen as phallic, reflecting Tony’s masculinity and raw sexual energy.
The theme of money is again reinforced with the shot of the bank reflecting possibly Tony’s implicit need for financial security for himself and his family. The religious aspect of Tony’s personality is also detailed. The shot of the cathedral/church illustrates Tony’s Catholicism but the shot is somewhat obscured by branches of trees. This may signify the crisis of faith that both Tony implicitly and his wife Carmela explicitly have in the show. Tony is religious, he has faith but this faith is obscured by the sins that he has committed and the illegal dealings that he is involved in.
the image is almost a black and white image reflecting the clear cut base belief in God that Tony and the Soprano family hold. A red canopy on the front of the church is important as its semiotic analysis reveals that the colour red connotes a raw energy, vigour and spirituality. This reinforces the strong position that religion plays in Tony’s life. The appearance of the graveyard also provides us with information about the show. The long shot of the gravestones illustrates that death will be a prevalent theme as it proves to be with all the murders carried out by Tony and his mafia gang in the show.
The appearance of the butcher’s shop stands as signification on two levels- the butcher per se as the murderer e. g. Tony, and as standing for an immoral behaviour. The pig on top of this shop stands as a symbolic representation of Tony’s greed for both food and money and for his selfishness and over-indulgence. The ‘Pizzaland’ shop also reflects his greed for food and Tony’s traditional Italian roots. Tony’s arrival at home is also important to analyse semiotically.
His movement through the gates signifies that he has entered a new phase of his life and as he moves up his driveway this signifies that an end has come to his journey, he is at rest and secure/content. Thus by performing a semiotic analysis of Tony and certain scenes from the opening credit sequences it is possible to ascertain what are the important areas of Tony’s life i. e. family, religion, sex, money, food, revenge etc. The use of colour in the opening credit sequence is of particular importance in this semiotic study.
There are many different meanings assigned to colours and their use in certain contexts can be highly significant in the development of meaning and therefore, themes. Tony is dressed in a maroon coloured shirt. This colour is associated with bravery and strength, which is indicative of Tony’s character despite his cruel and brutal streak. The road signs signalling New Jersey, Tony’s home-place, are green. Green is associated here with Tony’s home-life and his family and this colour connotes peace and serenity, all feelings that Tony himself hopes to associate with his family.
A colour that is of a particular significance due to its connotations is silver. The colour silver connotes justice and purity due to its association with the silver swords of the knights of olden times- protectors of freedom, upholders of morality and keepers of peace and justice. For this reason the colour is also connotative of the police as they have taken on the contemporary role of the knight. Silver freight lorries are frequently shown in the opening sequences but they are always shown travelling in different directions to Tony, never with him or even close to him.
A freight truck may act as a symbol for carrying a heavy load or a burden, so the silver trucks may connote Tony’s anxiety regarding being caught/followed by the police. His journey in opposite directions to these silver trucks may also act as signification that he has left purity/justice behind and is leading an immoral life. It is possible to even suggest that the colour of Tony’s house is indicative to meaning. As Tony drives home, he passes by many white family homes, which bear the American flag thus connoting morality and good. Tony’s house however is brown or not white signifying something other than purity and wholesomeness.
Thus by analysing the use of colours and in particular their use in certain contexts it is possible to ascertain that themes such as immorality, family and fear of the police will feature as themes in this show. An important part of any semiotic analysis of a film or television programme is that of the soundtrack. Music works primarily on the level that it can rely on the spoken word as it is sung to create meaning instead of the visual image. Non-verbal communication is also employed in music to create meaning with the use of certain instruments to evoke emotions and atmosphere.
According to Self (1988:116) “title sequences … together with title music, are instrumental in communicating the mood and themes of the coming production. ” The show uses the same song at the beginning of each episode. The song is ‘Goy yourself a Gun’ and its lyrics play on the notion of the ‘mob’ and the ‘gun’ which are both themes in a way in the programme. The song plays slowly and quietly at the start of the sequence as Tony leaves the city and gains in speed and audibility, as he gets closer to home. This illustrates that he feels strongly about where he lives and about his family.
According to the song, if one is to relate it to Tony, he was ‘born under a bad sign with a blue moon in your (his) eyes’ (lines 7-8). This provides a hint to Tony’s character, that he is immoral and does not follow the rules. Having ‘blue moon’ in one’s eyes is indicative of Tony’s upward gazing idea, that one must better themselves regardless of how they do this even if the rules must be broken. The repetition of this song at the beginning of each episode helps to continually create the overall atmosphere of the show as being one of immorality and violence connoted by the ‘gun’ in the song.