Script consultant UK looks back on Mean Streets (1973)
As the hardest working UK script consultant in the business I spend a fair bit of time watching classic films. I don’t think I’ve blogged about Mean Streets (1973) in a while, so while I have a rare breather between script reports and my work as a script writer for hire and script doctor I thought I’d jot down some thoughts about this 70s classic.
The opening title sequence of Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets is below. The film starts with Scorsese’s voice effectively being the inner voice of Harvey Keitel’s character (Scorsese’s’ own surrogate in this film – essentially about growing up amongst criminals/mafia in New York’s Little Italy).
After a short sequence with Keitel being woken in the night, the film kicks off with a montage shot in Super 8mm. A home movie of the boys and gal’s in the neighbourhood. The Ronette’s ‘Be My Baby’ plays on the soundtrack as we see characters from the film messing around in the neighbourhood, at weddings and christenings, goofing off with the local priest. A short, sweet portrait of the area.
Mean Streets was a pretty big deal at the time, after years in gestation, Scorsese’s stop start career (up to that point) suddenly got a boost when the film became a critical smash. Looking back on it now, Mean Streets which was shot on a very low budget (a lot of it the locations are actually in LA) and now – like the opening sequence – the film does look and feel like a home movie – found in a dusty attic from a different time.
Anyone who has spent much time in New York will recognise some of the locations, Mott and Hester Street in particular. But a lot of these places have changed. There’s a telling sequence in The Sopranos where a mafia guy is talking on the phone as he walks through Little Italy, the camera follows the short conversation and the characters face when he realises that he’s not in the neighbourhood a few steps later, and what was once Little Italy doesn’t exist anymore.
Scorsese was making films with Keitel many years before, and Robert De Niro lived in Little Italy as a child, a shy kid, who kept out of trouble. Scorsese was a film and religion obsessed kid, who loved John Ford, Welles and British director Michael Powell.
Scorsese collected stories from the neighbourhood toughs, these stories, collected together were built into the script which became Mean Streets. A film about a place and a time.
Scorsese never really escaped the neighbourhood, his best films – Goodfellas and Casino still deal with these guys – and while he’s a great director, he seems to work better and with more zeal when he can grasp the mindset of people who grew up near him and had similar experiences.
So, Mean Streets is a home movie – a lot like Fellini’s Amacord and Barry Levinson’s Diner (and Tin Men). Neighbourhood movies. And there’s something lovely about that.
The title sequence is below.
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire and script doctor for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on firstname.lastname@example.org or hire him on Peopleperhour
His directorial debut Markham will be released in 2019.