While the year of 2023 is wrapping up, the Criterion Collection still have several releases coming up before the year ends. For this month of November, Criterion have taken another dip in the filmography of Martin Scorsese in the form of Mean Streets. Released in 1973, Mean Streets was a breakout hit for Scorsese: following two less-than-stellar directorial efforts, Mean Streets was the movie that put Scorsese on the map.
A Little History
By 1973, Martin Scorsese had directed two movies: Who’s That Knocking at My Door and Boxcar Bertha. While Who’s That Knocking had gotten some critical acclaim, Boxcar Bertha wasn’t as lucky. After some inspiration from director John Cassavetes, Scorsese decided to write a movie similar to Who’s That Knocking. In fact, the script is said to have started out life was a follow up to the characters in Who’s That Knocking. Eventually, this script became Mean Streets, a movie semi-autobiographical on Scorsese’s part.
Mean Streets follows the everyday life of Charlie Cappa (Harvey Keitel), a young hood living in New York City. Charlie is the head of his own gang of small time criminals. One of the members in this gang is the unpredictable Johnny Boy (Robert DeNiro), a gambling man who owes money to a few loan sharks. Charlie finds himself defending Johnny every way he can, while also having a secret affair with Johnny’s epilepsy-prone cousin Tereasa (Amy Robinson).
Mean Streets tackles a handful of topics within its 112-minute runtime. Following the themes from Who’s That Knocking, Scorsese touches upon Catholic conflict. Throughout the movie, Charlie Cappa finds himself at odds with his Catholic upbringing: while not necessarily a mobster, the activities Charlie and his gang take part in are morally wrong. Harvey Keitel gives a strong performance in this movie, giving viewers an idea of what’s going on in this man’s mind. There’s also an emphasis on brotherhood and having each other’s backs, possibly coming from Scorsese’s own life.
Speaking of good performances, look no further than Robert DeNiro’s rousing performance as Johnny Boy. DeNiro excels at showing the wild card nature of Johnny Boy. Still underneath this reckless man is a genuinely decent guy, which Charlie is able to see more than others. According to several sources, DeNiro’s performance as Johnny Boy caught the attention of some casting directors. Within the next year, DeNiro was playing the younger Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II.
As per usual with Scorsese movies, the cinematography of New York City is a feast for the eyes. Whereas The Godfather showed audiences a more polished view of the criminal world, Mean Streets lives up to its title: it’s grim and dirty. This would go on to define Scorsese’s later movies, Taxi Driver especially. On top of that, Scorsese has a splendid soundtrack to back it up, ranging from 1950s rock n roll to 1960s British rock.
Criterion done it once again in terms of the special features as this Mean Streets Blu ray has a number of them:
– 2011 interview and conversation between Martin Scorsese and Richard Linklater
– selected audio commentary from Scorsese and Amy Robinson from 2004
– video essay on the movie by Imogen Sara Smith
– interview with director of photography Kent Wakeford
– excerpt from a 2008 documentary on Mardik Martin
– a promotional video on Scorsese that played during the movie’s original theatrical run
– essay by critic Lucy Sante
Aside from the video essay and the booklet essay, everything else isn’t exactly brand new. Looking down the list, it doesn’t look like any of these features have been released on anything (sans the audio commentary, which seems to be from the 2004 DVD released). The 2011 interview/conversation with Richard Linklater is a wonderful addition, with Scorsese providing great insights on the movie. The video essay on the movies depiction on brotherhood is quite strong while the other interviews all provide more information. Compared to some of Criterion’s other releases, this is one of the most jam-packed single disc releases in a while. As far as the high definition picture goes, this new restoration of the movie looks incredible. While a dark and grim looking movie, the new restoration manages to keep that element within the movie, even in 1080p.
Movie buffs and Scorsese fans alike should all enjoy this impressive release of Mean Streets from Criterion. The movie, while good, might not have much of a plot compared to Scorsese’s later work. Still, that’s part of the charm of the movie: Scorsese was an underground film maker from New York City that made a movie about the harsh realities of New York City. It doesn’t get any more rebellious than that. Overall, this Criterion release of Mean Streets is a must-have.
Movie Rating: 7/10
Blu-ray Rating: 8/10
I'm a writer/journalist with a passion for music and pop culture. Having graduated from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, PA in 2014, I've been looking for a platform in which I can share my passions. Since 2009, I've been posting to my own blog- The Walrus' Music Blog- via Blogger. I'm also the author of two self-published books, "The Camp: Stories from the Summer" and "The College: Stories from King's." Together, the two books cover the story of my life from 2004 to 2014. I've been lucky enough to interview several of my favorite musicians over the years and go to concerts from time to time. I'm also very devoted to the CBS reality TV show Survivor, which I started watching in 2002 when its fourth season started. I currently live in New Jersey.