Friday, March 2, 2012



Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Martin Scorsese and Mardik Martin based on the story by Martin Scorsese

“You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit and you know it.”
                                    --- Martin Scorsese (Opening line of “Mean Streets”)

Scorsese’s own narration opens his most personal film. A loose sequel to his first movie, “Who’s That Knocking at My Door,” Scorsese creates a world of New York’s Little Italy, filled with young men who matriculate the bars, apartment hallways, pool halls, and movie theatre, all while dealing with the constant influx of criminal activity, local mafia, one’s own personal images, religion, and the constant blaring of pop and rock’n’roll music of the time. The movie centers around Charlie, (Harvey Keitel) an honorable man who runs numbers and works as a go-between for his relative, Giovanni (Cesare Danova) who’s somewhat moderately-placed in the local organized crime syndicate. Charlie has numerous local friends, and is always conscious of both his perception of himself towards others in the neighborhood, especially when he weighs them against his own personal desires. He’s also deeply fearful of sins, his own natural ones as well as those he abides in consciously. He constantly pays his own form of penance by placing his hand close to a lit match or fires to help eradicates his sins and try to help him be wary of future sins, but it’s easier said than done. Taking place during Little Italy’s San Gennaro Festival, his friends are Tony (David Proval), a local club owner, Michael, (Richard Romanus) a local small-time street hustler, and Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) a local wannabe-gangster who runs by instincts and his imitation of old gangster movie clichés, and owes money to everyone in town, including Michael. Charlie has vouched for Johnny Boy however, partly because he’s an old friend from the neighborhood, and because his family is old friends with his uncle Giovanni. He’s also dating Johnny Boy’s epileptic cousin Teresa (Amy Robinson), yet he continually flirts with other bar patron girls, and has a big crush on a local topless dancer named Diana, (Jeannie Bell) but is so afraid of being seen around the neighborhood with a black woman, that even when he finally asks her out, he stands her up. In a world where unexpected bursts of violence is commonplace, and even those whose hands are clean must deal with the local organized crime as regular life goes on, and Charlie awaits the possible chance to  run a restaurant who’s co-owner has suddenly disappeared. Scorsese uses pop music that seems at times irrelevant to the action, most famously blaring “Please Mr. Postman,” during a barfight that’s shot with a moving handheld camera. The ending is both expected, yet open-ended, and I often wonder what happens to the characters years later, whether they still hang around or did they leave the “Mean Streets.” Scorsese was an asthmatic child who watched the neighborhood of Little Italy from his upstairs window, and grew up around the Catholic Church, and late-night movies. Most true observers of Scorsese’s work realize how Catholicism plays an important role in most of his films, and the constant struggle between guilt and penance. “Mean Streets” taught the Spike Lee’s and John Singleton’s of the world how to create the essence of a local inner-city neighborhood. “Mean Streets” Is about all that Scorsese represents, and it’s possibly the key to all of his films. After his student film, which became “Who’s That Knocking at My Door?”, he made the Roger Corman-produced low-budget film “Boxcar Bertha”, a project that he hated, and was poorly received by critics, but it taught him how to make movies quickly. He then came to the conclusion that his next film should be something personal if he doesn’t want to become another go-to director. “Mean Streets” is the first great film of a great director.

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