Mean Streets (1973)

Mean Streets
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Martin Scorsese and Mardik Martin
(number 385)

Baby Harvey Keitel and baby Robert De Niro are low in the New York mafia. Charlie (Keitel) is torn over what he does for a living and what his religion preaches. The voice over was both helpful and dreamlike, often Charlie was speaking while the camera pushed into his face. It felt like his mouth should be moving, but it wasn’t. I quite liked it as a film effect, actually.

My first impression of this movie is that it’s got a great soundtrack. It just kept being true. Great 60s-70s music all the way through.

To set the scene during the evening at the club the shot shows a cartoon of a naked girl on the wall and then an exotic dancer moves into the frame. But the camera is in so tight you just get hip or a bit of waist, although later we do see breasts, we also have close ups of parts of the body – knees, shoulder blade, hands doing pretty intricate movements. It’s very elegant, a way to show that although the girls are on display, the movie doesn’t have to exploit their nakedness. It was beautiful.

It’s such a quintessential Scorcese gangster movie, it felt like I’d seen it before even though I haven’t watched that many gangster films before. Lots of tough guys punching each other, talking fast with the accents and talking big. Also lots of tight jeans and shirts tucked in, meaning the fights ended up showing a lot of ass, perhaps not an intentional thing there.

I feel like the story of this film isn’t the point. It’s about the characters, the attitudes they share and particularly don’t share. The recklessness of Jonny and the bind Charlie is in.

Does it make me love the people? This is a tough one. I think yes. I think I love Charlie. I felt for him, and he’s so damn cute. He’s stuck between what he wants, what he feels is right and what he has to do to get ahead. He’s torn between loyalty to Jonny (the loose cannon) and Theresa (treated as a freak because of her epilepsy) and the mafia, which is basically his livelihood and his future. That’s definitely a situation which will make you worry about a character.

Hey, there’s totally a gay man in this film. And he doesn’t get killed or anything! Sure, he’s sorta over the top flamboyant and camp and he’s used as comic relief in a brief scene. I guess it’s to show the diversity of New York in the seventies.

Bechdel test: No. Theresa speaks to a maid about fixing up the hotel room once they’re done in it, but the maid isn’t named. Diane never speaks to another woman.

Best line:

Charlie: 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.

State of Mind: Overall I wasn’t particularly gripped. It’s a frenetic film, with lots of interesting choppy cuts and edits, but ultimately it’s a character study. That would be fine, except that the character being studied doesn’t have too much of an arc. He pretty much stays in the same space throughout the film, I don’t feel like an big lessons were learned or truths discovered. It’s fun as an early Scorcese, as a slice of a moment of time in a very specific bit of the world, but I’m not sure I’d watch it again. I do like the very end when the music playing ends with the performer saying ‘thank you, goodnight’ and the people of New York are shown closing their blinds to the drama playing out in the street. It’s clever, the movie is clever, but not, ultimately, super entertaining.

Watched movie count


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