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Mean Streets : BFI Film Classics - Demetrios Matheou

Mean Streets

By: Demetrios Matheou

eBook | 5 October 2023

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Mean Streets was Martin Scorsese's third feature film, and the one that confirmed him as a major new talent. On its premiere at the New York Film Festival in 1973, the critic Pauline Kael hailed the film as 'a true original of our period, a triumph of personal film-making'. The tale of combative friends and small-time crooks is set amid the bars, pool halls, tenements and streets of Manhattan's Little Italy. Scorsese has said of his childhood neighbourhood, 'its very texture was interwoven with organised crime', and this quality would dramatically inform the tone and restless energy of his seminal film.

Demetrios Matheou's insightful study considers Mean Streets' production history in the context of the New Hollywood period of American cinema, noting also the key roles played by John Cassavetes and Roger Corman. He analyses the importance of Scorsese's background to the film's characters and themes, including preoccupations with guilt, redemption and criminal subcultures; the development of the director's film-making process and signature style; the way in which he both drew upon and invigorated the crime genre; his relationship with emerging stars Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, and the film's reception and legacy.

Matheou argues that while Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980) are regarded as Scorsese's greatest films of the period, Mean Streets is the more influential achievement. With it, Scorsese not only paved the way for a new kind of crime movie, not least his own GoodFellas (1990), but also inspired generations of independently-minded film-makers.

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