#265) Mean Streets (1973)

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#265) Mean Streets (1973)

OR “Let’s Get This Marty Started”

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Written by Scorsese and Mardik Martin

Class of 1997

The Original Theatrical Trailer – It’s gnikcuf great.

The Plot: Based on Scorsese’s upbringing in Little Italy, “Mean Streets” is the story of Charlie (Harvey Keitel), a man torn between his devout Catholic upbringing, and his life as a debt collector for his Uncle Giovanni (Cesare Danova). Charlie spends most of his time hanging out at the bar owned by his friend Tony (David Proval), maintaining a somewhat difficult relationship with Teresa (Amy Robinson), and looking after Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro), who is constantly in debt to Giovanni. It’s a tale of Italian-American lowlifes, in conflict with their Catholicism and the crime world they currently inhabit and…Bingo! I got Scorsese Bingo!

Why It Matters: The NFR praises Scorsese to the hilt, calling his filmmaking “original, volatile, personal, and brilliant”. Props are also given to Keitel and De Niro.

But Does It Really?: It’s not perfect, but I get why this film is on the list. “Mean Streets” isn’t at the masterpiece level of “Raging Bull” or “Taxi Driver”, but we wouldn’t have either of those movies without this little gem. Very few directors can get away with getting their stepping stone movie on the NFR list, but Scorsese is definitely one of them, and no study of his filmography would be complete without “Mean Streets”.

Shout Outs: Brief clips are featured from “The Searchers” and “The Big Heat”, plus a poster for “Point Blank”.

Everybody Gets One: Amy Robinson’s acting career didn’t last too much longer after “Mean Streets”, but she has had a successful career as a producer, including Scorsese’s “After Hours”.

Wow, That’s Dated: Ah yes, the sexism and racism that permeates a lot of Scorsese’s early work. Marty was fighting a lot of demons in the ‘70s.

Take a Shot: Originally titled “Season of the Witch”, Scorsese’s mutual friend/future “Gangs of New York” screenwriter Jay Cocks suggested “Mean Streets”, based on a line from Raymond Chandler’s “The Simple Art of Murder”.

Seriously, Oscars?: Warner Bros. was busy pushing “The Exorcist” for Oscar consideration, so “Mean Streets” was left out to dry. Critics, however, were kinder, with both the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle giving their Best Supporting Actor prizes to Robert De Niro. The WGA nominated the film’s screenplay for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen, but “Mean Streets” lost to “Save the Tiger”.

Other notes

  • Scorsese’s biggest inspiration for “Mean Streets” was John Cassavetes. Scorsese had just finished filming “Boxcar Bertha” for Roger Corman when Cassavetes commented, “You’ve just spent a year of your life making a piece of shit.” This led to Marty’s films leaning more towards his own life and experiences.
  • Full disclosure: For years I have always gotten this film mixed up with “Badlands”. In fact, when I picked “Badlands” for this blog, I thought it was “Mean Streets”. It wasn’t until Sheen and Spacek appeared on my screen that I realized my merry mix-up. Still liked “Badlands”, though.
  • Oh hello, Martin Scorsese doing a voiceover.
  • Is this what De Niro is going to look like in “The Irishman”?
  • We have the Stones! “Tell Me” has the distinction of being the first Rolling Stones song featured in a Martin Scorsese film.
  • And “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” too? This film must be super expensive to broadcast. The story goes that half of the film’s budget went to music rights.
  • It’s weird watching De Niro play the group fuck-up. This is the Scorsese role that Joe Pesci typically played.
  • Shoutout to cinematographer Kent Wakefield. This movie pretty much defined the gritty shaky-cam of ‘70s cinema.
  • Scorsese’s one of the few film directors whose characters go to the movies on a regular basis.
  • “What’s a mook?” Boy, that escalated quickly.
  • This movie has not one, but two Carradines! David Carradine was one of the leads in “Boxcar Bertha”, and makes a cameo here as a drunk. His half-brother Robert plays the boy hiding in the bar. I didn’t realize this film was a prequel to “Kill Bill” (Vol. 0?).
  • Amazingly, there’s full-frontal nudity in this film and it’s not Harvey Keitel.
  • Huh, no overly angelic blonde leading lady in this one. Nice restraint, Marty.
  • Love the steady-cam shot of Charlie getting intoxicated. And if this blog brought anything into my life, I’m glad it was “Rubber Biscuit”.
  • That’s Martin’s mom Catherine Scorsese as the old lady who helps Teresa with her epilepsy.
  • I would pay good money to watch this cast go to Brooklyn and beat the crap out of Tony Manero.

Legacy

  • And we are off and running into the gritty, violent, profane, semi-improvised world of Martin Scorsese.
  • Speaking of, at one point “Mean Streets” held the record for most utterances of “fuck” in the movie. There’s only about 50 here, a record broken by Scorsese again and again…and again…
  • It was a screening of “Mean Streets” that got Scorsese his next directing gig: “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”.
  • Pretty much everyone’s first movie is their own “Mean Streets”. Autobiographical, low-budget, a bit telling of your director’s issues.

Listen to This: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was the Rolling Stones’ first hit in America, and was added to the National Recording Registry in 2006. Everyone’s covered it, but no one can get near the original.

2 thoughts on “#265) Mean Streets (1973)”

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