Regarded as America’s greatest living director Martin Scorsese first came to the attention of the film world with Mean Streets. Having made a number of student films he had found himself working for Roger Corman when he helmed Boxcar Bertha essentially an exploitation film that taught him to shoot quickly and on a budget but his eyes were on bigger things with a deeply personal script that he co-wrote with Mardik Martin
Set in Little Italy, we follow the lives of four 20-somethings, who are finding their way in the world, from small-time crooks to aspiring gangsters. There’s Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro), an irresponsible thug with a track record of blowing things up and ripping off loan sharks, his friend Charlie (Harvey Keitel), the dapper nephew of mafia boss Giovanni (Cesare Danova), who’s trying his best to avoid a life of crime, with aspirations of running his own restaurant. We also meet with Tony (David Proval – The Shawshank Redemption) who runs the neighbourhood bar; and Michael (Richard Romanus – The Sopranos) a loan shark who targets gullible teens from Brooklyn. Born into the criminal fraternity, Charlie battles with his guilty conscience as he tries to save his wayward friend Johnny Boy from the world of crime that he so desperately wants to escape.
The film had been funded by Jonathan Taplin who at the time had been road managing Bob Dylan and The Band but with the tours on a hiatus he came into contact with fledgling director Scorsese. Impressed by his student films Taplin stumped up $250k of his own money not realizing that producers raised the finance for films rather than personally paying for them. His money was matched by Lee Perry and filming began albeit covertly. A determinedly New York set film the crew didn’t have permits and were scared that the all powerful Teamsters might come across them shooting and shut it down and so the crew assumed the mantle of student film makers for the exteriors with the interiors being shot on a LA soundstage. But it was budget film making all the same with all the actors receiving SAG minimum pay at the time of just $700 a week.
Scorsese had assembled a great cast that included Harvey Keitel and of course Robert De Niro who remained in character throughout which threw his co-star Richard Romanus. Scorsese had meticulously story boarded the film including many of the brilliantly realized camera moves that saw the camera follow a fight in a pool room, and most notably the camera strapped to Keitel as he drunkenly lurched round the bar in a disorientating way that’s been much imitated since by lesser directors.
The other stand out for the film was its innovative use of music on the sound track that saw ‘Be My Baby’ being used having been licensed for only $500 and also the Rolling Stones music which was to cost production dearly with their manager agreeing only if he saw a cut of the film first and would bar the musics use if he didn’t like it. Taplin never did sign the contract but Pauline Kael who saw the film absolutely raved about the film announcing Scorsese as a major talent and it was enough to convince that the Stones track should be kept in the film.
Getting the film distributed was a different matter with the studios turning it down at a time when independent studios were almost non-existent. Warners eventually bought it realizing that it was a great film but this was in 1973 and the studios attention would soon get behind the monumental success of The Exorcist and Mean Streets was soon forgotten. Taplin stepped in and bought back the European rights and showed it to Fellini one of Scorsese’s heroes who loved it and got his own distributor to buy it and the film was a far bigger success in Europe than it was in the US. The rest is history
Now 50 years later and Scorsese celebrating the success of his latest film Killers of the Flower Moon the film gets a Limited Edition Dual 4K UHD and Blu-ray Box Set and once again Second Sight set the bench mark for all Home Entertainment releases with a lavish array of superb extras that includes
- Dual format edition including both UHD and Blu-ray with main feature and bonus features on both discs
- New 4K restoration supervised and approved by director Martin Scorsese and collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker
- UHD presented in Dolby Vision HDR
- Restored original mono audio
- New audio commentary by Demetrios Matheou (author of BFI Classics Mean Streets) and David Thompson (Co-Editor of Scorsese on Scorsese)
- Scene specific audio commentary with Martin Scorsese and actor Amy Robinson
- Keep Moving Forward: a new interview with producer Jonathan T Taplin
- Saints and Sinners: Dr Catherine Wheatley on Mean Streets
- 2011 Film at Lincoln Center screening introduction, interview and Q&A with Martin Scorsese
- Mardik: Baghdad to Hollywood feature-length documentary
- Archive featurette: Back on the Block
- Archive featurette: Home Movies
- Trailer Limited Edition Contents
- Rigid slipcase with original artwork
- 178-page book with new essays by Mark Asch, Daniel Bird, Charles Bramesco, Lillian Crawford, Elena Lazic, Manuela Lazić, Christina Newland and Extract from Scorsese on Scorsese
- 8 collectors’ art cards
Best of these are those involving Scorsese himself or those involved in the making of the film. Scorsese’s specific scene commentary is insightful as is the 2011 Q&A but the interview with producer Taplin is excellent as is the archive feature length documentary with the late writer Mardik Martin who would continue to work with Scorsese through the 1970s culminating in Raging Bull. Second Sights Home entertainment releases are always essentials buys and this is no different
related feature : The overlooked Scorsese films….
related feature : Film maker Mark Cousins chats to us about his film, ‘March on Rome‘
Here’s the Mean Streets trailer…….
Mean Streets on Limited Edition Dual 4K UHD /Blu-ray & Standard Editions out on 15th January 2024