Cinema Nova’s Cult Cravings – Mean Streets

I had the privilege of attending a weekend screening of Cinema Nova’s Cult Cravings program (that will run until September), the film that I got to experience was Mean Streets. I am a big Martin Scorsese fan, as well as a huge Robert DeNiro fan. The chance to see an early film of theirs (and their first collaboration) on the big screen was something that I just could not pass up, I am glad I made that decision.

Up until a few weeks back, the only Scorsese film I had seen on the big screen was Taxi Driver. Now I have seen this, and I am very thankful for the opportunity to experience these two amazing films on the big screen. I was very excited for this one, as I had seen it a long time ago, and my memory of it was fading.

The Film
Mean Streets stands as a very gritty portrayal of the crime life in New York, more specifically in Little Italy. Our main character Charlie (Harvey Keitel), while he lives this life of crime, he has a solid head on his shoulders and he knows how things work. His friend Johnny Boy (Robert DeNiro) is the polar opposite, he’s a gambling addict and he borrows money where ever he can to gamble and try cover his debts. These are the two characters who stand out, and the ones we ultimately care about. The film itself is more of a character study, of what it is like to live within this environment, on each end of the spectrum. The tagline for the film (which also happens to be one of the first lines spoken) states that you don’t make up for your sins in a church, you do it on the streets. This is what the film is ultimately about, as Charlie lives by that rule. He wants to save Johnny Boy, all the while still doing right by all the people around him.

The Experience
Mean Streets is a film that should be experienced, and in writing about it I’d rather not really give anything more away.

As I’ve said before, Nova Cinema is a fantastic art house complex, and it really is just the most amazing place to experience these older films. I felt like I was transported back to when this film was released, and it was like watching it for the first time.

As the awesome opening credit sequence started, I was glued to the screen. Harvey Keitel has always been a completely engaging actor, he brought me right into this experience from the first few moments. I love how all the main players are introduced in this film, doing the very things that really define them. The one we all know we have to keep an eye on is Johnny Boy, and the greatness of DeNiro was beginning to emerge with this film.

What’s the matter, you too good for this ten dollars? Huh? You too good for it?

The chemistry between Keitel and DeNiro is central here, they both work so naturally together. Every time they share the screen together it is pure gold. The way they just bounced off each other was amazing, it is quite the sight to behold and even treasure as it is so rare to see this done so well anymore.

The life these men know is that of little event, and it almost feels like Johnny Boy creates such conflict in order to just do something. Violence can strike at anytime, and there is a sense of uncertainty in the air, especially as it progresses. Mean Streets really paved the way for films of this genre, and it is something that Scorsese does so well. For me this really stands as the quintessential film that presents a life of crime on the streets.

The experience of seeing this at the Nova was simply amazing, and something I will hold dear. If you ever get the chance to experience this film, take it! It is a rare little gem, and I honestly hope I can own it in my collection some day.

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