Saturday, February 19, 2011

Netflix Queue: 'Mean Streets'

Three thoughts about Martin Scorcese's 1973 debut, 'Mean Streets'...

• This is where Martin Scorcese started to become Martin Scorcese, after a few years of laboring under shlock king Roger Corman. It's got all the Scorcese touches, in an early and kind of raw form: The Rolling Stones on the soundtrack, New York, tracking shots and, of course, DeNiro. It's got a kind of punk rawness to it that's still kind of thrilling 40 years later.

• An immense part of the punk rawness comes from DeNiro. He's always been an intimidating, middle-aged presence in my mind--even when playing young Vito Corleone in 1974's "The Godfather Part II." So it's kind of amazing to see him playing, essentially, a kid—a cocky young man, wet behind the ears, barely into the world but already at war with it. He's beautiful and fierce, but (like Scorcese) he's not ROBERT DENIRO yet, and seeing the performance anew—after decades of DeNiro watching—is a kind of revelation.

• A friend on Twitter says this movie doesn't really hold up very well, and it's not aged well. It's got a slack Cassavettian talkiness that meanders nowhere in particular at times. There are scenes that appear to have been improvised by the actors without much in the way of direction except: "Argue! Now!" It's just not quite as entertaining as, say, "Taxi Driver" or "Raging Bull" or "Goodfellas" or even "Casino." But it's still worthy of viewing, a movie that ties itself firmly to its time and place (New York in the early 1970s, when the city was falling apart) and, as a document of that time and the young vision of a great director, a fascinating piece of filmmaking. "Mean Streets" isn't a masterpiece, but it shows you the preparation for a career full of them.

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