Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese / U.S., 1973):

The saint-as-hoodlum anguish is derived from Accattone, Martin Scorseseís breakthrough film explores it as the fulfillment of Godardís "neorealist musical." New York's Little Italy in the midst of the San Gennaro Festival is a zone of effulgent grit, where the smallest squabble turns volcanic and intimations of hellfire are never far off. The neighborhood is casually lorded over by a seedy-elegant capo (Cesare Danova), the loan shark (Richard Romanus) keeps getting stuck with truckloads of useless loot, everybody hangs out at the tavern where the owner (David Proval) has a panther caged in the basement. Straight from the confessional, the young debt-collector (Harvey Keitel) strolls into the lurid saloon: "Hallelujah, Iíve come to create order." Manacled to the prejudices and anxieties of his tradition, heís torn by feelings for a tough, willowy epileptic (Amy Robinson) and loyalty to her freewheeling cousin, the mooching shit-stirrer (Robert De Niro). Plus "the infinite," of course, "ya donít fuck around with the infinite." From the iconic opening (Keitel in bed, jump-cuts and home movies and "Be My Baby," the holy light of the flickering projector), Scorsese exalts cinema as the mediator of reality, memory and reverie, the demonic art that enthralls the church boy. The ardent novice avails himself of all of the medium's history: Powell for the crimson suffusions, Polonsky for the gangland capitalism, Fuller for the centrifugal poolhall brawl, Murnau or Gance for the protagonistís seesawing intoxication at the soldierís party. Heightening the Augustinian imagery is the pulsing tessitura, the flow of The Rolling Stones, opera and Motown mixed with the vaudeville back-and-forth of characters bumping their heads on the limits of their macho pose. (If Coppolaís study of the business of crime and family is a stately Leoncavallo aria, Scorseseís is a feverish Verdi.) Brooklyn Bridgeís desperate abyss and Calvary blood on a bullet-cracked windshield, a tenor so fierce only Abel Ferrara would continue it. Cinematography by Kent Wakeford. With Jeannie Bell, Victor Argo, George Memmoli, David Carradine, Robert Carradine, and Harry Northup.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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