2021 Blind Spot Series: Mean Streets

 

What I knew going in: The basic premise.

Charlie (Harvey Keitel) is a small time criminal in Brooklyn, He's in love with Teresa (Amy Robinson) who is family doesn't approve us because she has epilepsy, and he spends a good amount of time trying to reel his sort of friend/fellow criminal Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) from being the walking dumpster fire that he is. Charlie wants to rise in the ranks, but everything seems to be working against him.

I've been trying to go back and catch some of Martin Scorcese's earlier work. Last year, I got around to Raging Bull, and I knew that Mean Streets was going to be next. I had to laugh while watching this, because it's the first time I've thought Scorcese's direction was bad. Obviously it's one of his earliest films so he was still trying to find his footing at this point, but it's easily the least polished of any of his films I've watched. 

For me, the only thing making this film worth watching is Harvey Keitel. He's great in it. Very energetic and even though Charlie is nowhere near likable, he makes him easy to watch. De Niro is good as well, but he's not in the film very much. He shows up every now and then bursting with messy bitch energy. The real letdown for me was how women are treated. They were merely used as plot devices and nothing more.

I think this is an important watch in Scorcese's filmography. We have to start somewhere, and it's nice to see how far he's come directing wise. Still, I don't think I'll ever watch this again.

Recommended: Yes (for those reason)

Grade: C

Memorable Quote: "I can't say that word..." Charlie - Harvey Keitel

Comments

  1. I'm not the biggest Scorsese fan, I'm not sure he's ever directed a film I've totally loved-The Aviator is the closest with Shutter Island and New York, New York just behind. But he's directed several I detested-Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Departed-however he is a fine technician with a real eye for talent so no matter how badly I've been burned by the last one I saw I'll give his films a chance.

    With that said I too came to Mean Streets late and while I didn't hate it I wasn't swept away by it either. It does provide a vivid snapshot of New York in the early 70's when it was far rougher and squalid than it is now, and in a way more alive. That and the intensity of Keitel and DeNiro (both just babies) were my take away. Also like you I've never had any great desire to watch it again.

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    1. That's true, it does paint a vivid picture, but this isn't going to be high on my Scorcese list.

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  2. For me, this is one of Scorsese's best films as it is widely considered to be his breakthrough film that lead to a lot of great films (and a couple of duds). Harvey Keitel is great in this as he often gets overlooked whenever he's in a film with de Niro or Joe Pesci. At least he's got those Wes Anderson movies he can always work on.

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    1. Oh really? Wow, this is easily at the bottom for me lol. I feel like Raging Bull feels like more of a breakthrough.

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    2. It's easy to forget that Scorsese made films before Mean Streets as I had seen one of them in Boxcar Bertha which I liked. There's also his first film that I want to see that also stars Keitel and some shorts that are available on Criterion. There is a film he did in 1974 with Ellen Burstyn, Keitel, Kris Kristofferson, Diane Ladd, and Jodie Foster called Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore which I totally recommend as it's a totally different beast of a film and if you look carefully. You'll find a young Laura Dern in the film eating ice cream. I'd also suggest his documentary film Italianamerican about his parents and man, they're a fun bunch.

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    3. Yeah, I was looking through his IMDb and I haven't seen anything that came before Mean Streets. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore has been on my radar for a while, that one I might have to get to.

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    4. Alice is a good one, though it ambles a bit but Ellen Burstyn is great in it.

      Boxcar Bertha is kind of ramshackle but has it's good points, Barbara Hershey's performance being one of them.

      Italianamerican is a real slice of Scorsese's life, he interviews his parents about their lives in NYC and his family's history back in Sicily. It's even more impactful if you've ever had an in depth connection with Old World Italians. My sister's in-laws were dyed in the wool, my brother-in-law's mother had been born in Italy and moved here as an infant-her mother never learned to speak English despite living here the rest of her life, and watching the film I saw so many echoes of them it was uncanny.

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    5. Barbara Hershey has been good in what little I have seen of her, I'll have to look for that one too. I didn't realize Alice spawned a TV show. That's interesting.

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  3. Awww, but I'm glad you gave it a whirl. I'm a big fan of Mean Streets although it has been years since I last watched it.

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    1. I can see why it's popular, and I think had I seen this before I'd seen his other work, I might feel differently about it.

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  4. I finally saw this film this past summer because it put Scorsese on the map. Like many 70s films you think it will go somewhere and then, pffft...nuttin! I know he is mainly known for his gangster style films which I just don’t care much for. I do like Shutter Island, Aviator and Hugo. I also love his commitment to saving film.

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    1. Shutter Island is one of my favorites of his. Didn't see that twist coming at all, even though I probably should have.

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