Combustible Celluloid Review - Mean Streets (1973), Martin Scorsese, Mardik Martin, Martin Scorsese, Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, David Proval, Amy Robinson, Ricahrd Romanus
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, David Proval, Amy Robinson, Ricahrd Romanus
Written by: Martin Scorsese, Mardik Martin
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 112
Date: 10/01/1973

Mean Streets (1973)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Hell on Earth

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Martin Scorsese is considered by many to be the greatest living American film director. His acknowledged masterworks are Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), and GoodFellas (1990). But I contend that Mean Streets (1973) is his greatest work and his most underappreciated.

Scorsese is a great student of world film and he has absorbed the intricacies of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of films. But he is also a human being, raised in New York City, wrestling with religion, and growing up around gangsters. Mean Streets reflects both of these sides of Scorsese more than any other film. As his career progressed his films became more and more of film than of himself. He is better than anyone (with the possible exception of Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut) at translating his film knowledge into filmmaking without being a ripoff artist (as some have said of Brian De Palma or Quentin Tarantino). He is excited about film, and that excitement always comes through.But we're lucky to have Mean Streets, a record of the young man still willing to give of himself.

In this movie Harvey Keitel stars as a New York thug just on the edge of the mafia. Robert De Niro has a smaller part as a crazy thug who is first seen blowing up a mailbox. Keitel is confused and dissatisfied. He's unhappy with the mafia. He's unhappy with his girlfriend. He finds himself attracted to a black dancer who works in his local bar. And his Catholic guilt nearly consumes him. The most telling scene is in a church where Keitel tries to touch the flame of a candle -- testing the fires of hell.

Like later Scorsese films, Mean Streets has an explosive climax and uses old pop tunes for its soundtrack. Later films got credit for these innovations. But the proof is here in Mean Streets, showing our greatest filmmaker at his best.

In 2023, the Criterion Collection released an essential Blu-ray edition of this masterpiece, perhaps one of Scorsese's most unsung works. The transfer of the grimy-looking movie looks pretty solid, and the monaural audio track is uncompressed. Bonuses include a chat, from 2011, between Scorsese and Richard Linklater (30 minutes); a selected-scene commentary, from 2004, by Scorsese and actor Amy Robinson; a new video essay, "A Body Among Other Bodies," by Imogen Sara Smith (29 minutes); an interview with cinematographer Kent Wakeford, from 2011 (19 minutes); two excerpts from a documentary on screenwriter Mardik Martin, from 2008 (9 minutes); a vintage featurette (7 minutes); and a theatrical trailer. The liner notes include an essay by critic Lucy Sante. This is Highly Recommended.

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