Having watched movies like The Departed, Goodfellas, Aviator, Shutter Island left me craving for more from the legend. It catapulted me to start this Scorsese movie festival. So I decided to start with the maestro’s first big launch, Mean Streets.
Scorsese was bought up in Little Italy and being a Scicillian himself his movies depict a lot of about the Italian-American society. The incidents shown in the movie are real life incidents which he used to witness in his day to day childhood life. Mean Streets was the source, the beginning, the first of its kind in the Italian American genre movies. Godfather showed us what it was to wield immense power and to pull the strings, it mainly showed the upper level in the Crime Boss hierarchy. Scorsese movies show the bottom layers in the crime world, those that of Caporegimes, button men, etc and believe me the real action, literally, is in this layer.
Mean Streets is about the lives of Tony, Charlie, Johnny Boy and Michael and the various incidents that Charlie comes across in their lives at Little Italy. Its celebration time of the year when our story begins and Charlie is one guilty person. He is highly religious and wants out of the business he runs,ie. collecting debts for his Caporegime uncle. Tony owns a bar which is the friends’ usually hang out place. While Michael is a loan shark, Johnny is messed up, jobless lad. Tensions brew up among the friends when Johnny Boy doesn’t give back Michael his cash and when Charlie vouches him.
The story is kept simple. The uniqueness is in the narrative. The evil society is narrated from the POV of man filled with remorse. We can find this repeatedly in Scorsese other movies. The protagonist is in an environment, from which he actually wants out.The movie is all about performances. Robert de Niro at one of his suicidal best! Not to mention Harvey Keitel. These two perform opposite personalities and that adds beauty to the canvas of the movie. The Director-Actor pairing of Scorsese-de Niro had begun. Rest we know materialised as Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, King of Comedy etc.
If Goodfellas was a well rooted tree, Mean Streets is the sapling to it. All the textures of an Italian mafia is well depicted. To quote from ‘The Goodfellas’, “If it was the wise guys, I would have already been dead”. You don’t know when you are gonna get whacked. It might be in the middle of a conversation for saying something stupid on the guy sitting beside you. In Mean Streets, the characters don’t actually die in the end. Symbolically speaking they are left to rot in the Mean Streets to suffer for their deeds and seek redemption.
I have altogether another view about the movie. To an extent the movie must have shown Scorsese’s life itself. The character Charlie is what I’m inferring to. Scorsese changed careers from becoming a priest to a film maker. This must have inspired the character Charlie. Well its a thought that flashed on my mind while watching.
Mean streets is a one time watch movie. Interesting enough, serves as a prequel to movies like Goodfellas. Wonderful performances.