Robert De Niro
So begins the opening of Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS, one of the finer moments in his career and sweet Jesus man, he has a ton of those. Is it a good movie? You mook, it’s a great f*cking movie. For a young feature film director just starting out, MEAN STREETS is an outstanding accomplishment. It’s full of great shots, laughs, violence; a brief glimpse into what it was like in the early 70’s to be a small time hood. An aspiring hood. Scorsese would go on to tackle (and completely conquer) similar ground in GOODFELLAS and CASINO, but MEAN STREETS is something different. It’s a more magnified look at the lower level hoods, the foot soldiers if you will. In GOODFELLAS, we saw Henry Hill go from an aspiring hood to being one of the “masterminds” (depending on who you ask) who pulled off the biggest robbery in history. CASINO, De Niro’s character Ace was an already established wiseguy. He just became huge in the casino industry and we all know how that turned out.
But mostly what MEAN STREETS is full of is questions. Keitel’s Charlie is full of questions. Questions of faith, religion, morality, loyalty, all that shite. Like that Twisted Sister video from back in the day, “What are you gonna do with your life?!” That’s Charlie right there. Charlie’s a good egg, Charlie once wanted to be a priest and he goes into a story about how disappointed and let down he was when he found out the church lied to him (dry it up Charlie you got off light, they repeatedly yanked my wang. Repeatedly!). And despite his having ambitions to be like his wiseguy uncle, Charlie can’t seem to fully devote himself to the lifestyle, not to mention his pain in the ass (and a nicely shaped ass at that) girlfriend who constantly pesters him to go the straight and narrow and move away, out of New York so they could start fresh (even back then girlfriends were always trying to take you away from the guys).
Then there’s my name sake, Johnny Boy, played to psychopathic perfection by Roberto De Niro. I swear to God, De Niro approaches this role with such intense ferocity, its easy to see why the studios thought he was an actual whack job when this was originally screened for execs. And of course, Scorsese’s use of music in certain scenes is nothing short of friggin genius. Even at this early a stage in his career, the man knew how, why and when to use music. From The Ronetts’ “Be My Baby” to The Marvelletes’ “Please Mr. Postman” in the brilliant two minute steady cam shot of a pool house brawl in which De Niro goes completely ape shit, to the Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash”, the single most bad ass shot of De Niro ever filmed. Oh, except for “Sunshine of Your Love” in GOODFELLAS. That was pretty bomb.
Back on the Block: This is a featurette of a very young Scorsese as he discusses the genesis of what brought about MEAN STREETS and the friends that inspired it. Not bad stuff. Dated, but not bad.