Martin Scorsese can make compelling films with a great flare, and apparently Mean Streets was the first time he got popular doing that. But like some of his other stuff, this one didn’t seem particularly substantial. He was quite honest about the film being autobiographically based. As a boy in Little Italy in New York, he observed things happening on a regular basis that he integrated into the film. Because of that background, Mean Streets is strikingly authentic, or so people say who know New York intimately. Scorsese filmed the story in the armpit of Little Italy (surely it has/had a nicer side), complete with all of the peeling paint, 7-Up ads, and rust that seemed to cover the city at the time. The early montages set to rock music have been imitated ever since – De Niro’s bar entrance to the Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was classic. Scorsese’s camera and editing are distinct: fast, driven, and landing like punches to the gut. It’s gritty, as it should be considering the mood. If he does nothing else well, Scorsese weds his style to his setting and story.
Notes: Opening credits – shows film projector, small screen – home video footage – from post-film time? Charlie’s inability to reconcile the church with the streets. Opening shots introduce each character, then name. Scorsese is voice of priest in church? Charlie always trying to hold finger over flame – be priest/God, but can’t do it. Identification with St. Francis fails. Charlie not driven by others, but by self. Quick cam, unstable cuts. Camera circles action. Broken-down Jesus on building, arms spread over streets. Church as business. Swastika on table. Shooting in bathroom – influenced by Godfather? Cut to different scene mid-conversation, resuming conversation. Charlie: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Drunk-cam. Johnny Boy lies on grave – foreshadow. 3 scenes with characters watching film within film.