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Mean Streets happens in New York’s Little Italy neighborhood, a location renowned for mafia activity. The protagonist, Charlie, is a Catholic who only works for the mafia because it is his family’s business. The deuteragonist, Johnny Boy, is his counterpart, violent, aggressive, and unstable. Charlie is in a relationship with Johnny Boy’s cousin Teresa, which he is forced to hide because she is epileptic and his uncle would disapprove. This link is part of the reason that drives him to take care of the other man. Despite Teresa’s insistence that they leave the mafia life behind, Charlie’s misadventures with Johnny Boy tangle him deeper in criminal life. The film ends with a shootout that results from Johnny Boy’s outburst at a loan shark to whom he owed money, which leads to him coming after the three with an assassin.
Why the Movie is Important
Mean Streets is a film that incorporates many of Scorsese’s own experiences from growing up in Little Italy. Following 1968 Who’s That Knocking at My Door (which shared the same actor playing the protagonist), it was his first chance to design and direct a feature film. He took it and chose to follow up on the prior piece’s themes while incorporating parts of his life story. This focus on small-stage realism has made the film immensely successful and popular, comparable in popularity and influence to The Godfather series while approaching the topic of the mafia from a different angle. Robert de Niro’s casting as Johnny Boy has also started a lasting collaboration that made the pair into some of the most renowned film celebrities in the world.
Facts About the Movie
Despite its emphasis on Little Italy, most of Mean Streets was shot in Los Angeles. The film’s budget was too low to afford to move away from Hollywood for the shoots, and only a small fraction of the scenes, such as the beach scene, were captured in New York. Another interesting fact is that Mean Streets was the first film where Martin Scorsese and Robert de Niro worked together. The two would continue doing so in the future, becoming names renowned worldwide in large part due to the combination of their talent. Lastly, Scorsese himself participated in the film’s shooting, notably narrating the opening narration and playing the assassin that attacks the protagonists at the film’s end.
Why I Liked It
My favorite aspect of the film is its gritty realism and display of the everyday realities of the mafia. Unlike The Godfather, which is an epic story of high-level politics, Mean Streets shows two failed street-level people. Charlie’s superior, his uncle, is bigoted and small-minded, showing contempt for disabled people such as Teresa and forbidding the protagonist from dating her. With that said, even though no large-scale events happen, there is an established narrative that reveals the characters’ stories organically. Lastly, Scorsese’s choice of the soundtrack was excellent, appropriate to both the times and the scenes depicted in the movie. Overall, Scorsese was able to create a lifelike picture that showed Little Italy life with all of its attractions and ugliness.
Despite its low budget and the various small imperfections that are easy to spot, Mean Streets is a very impressive film. It abandons the traditional convention of an overarching storyline and instead takes a documentary-like approach, focusing on the characters and their everyday lives. As a result, the viewer understands the suffering of both Charlie and Johnny Boy even as the film delivers the action that is expected of it. Overall, Mean Streets is a brilliant film that contains many of the tools that gave Scorsese’s later movies their legendary status.
Mean Streets has influenced numerous directors and movies who made films about New York and its mafia later on. Where the Godfather provided insight into family politics, Scorsese showed a snapshot of the daily lives of the members without any glamorization. This effect became possible due to the collaboration of numerous young talented people, most notably Martin Scorsese and Robert de Niro. Having been given the freedom to work as they saw fit, they created innovative techniques that lent the film its brilliance despite the low budget. These methods carried over into the director’s later films and numerous derivative works, further underlining the original’s influence.
Scorsese, M. (1973). Mean streets [film]. Warner Bros.