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Martin Scorsese
Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, David Proval
Mardik Martin, Martin Scorsese
A small-time hood tries to keep the peace between his friend Johnny Boy and Johnny Boy's creditors.
Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 112 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 11/21/2023

• Select-Scene Commentary with Director Martin Scorsese and Actor Amy Robinson
• “Back on the Block” Featurette
• “Martin Scorsese with Richard Linklater” Featurette
• “A Body Among Other Bodies” Video Essay
• Interview with Cinematographer Kent Wakeford
• Excerpts from Mardik: Baghdad to Hollywood Documentary
• Trailer
• Booklet


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-Chane A2.4 Speakers
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Mean Streets: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1973)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 21, 2023)

Many decades into Martin Scorsese's career, 1973’s Mean Streets evokes interest mainly due to its position in history: it offered Scorsese's first collaboration with Robert De Niro, and it also foreshadowed the themes the two would explore in later films. Unfortunately, since most of those subsequent efforts fare much better than Mean Streets, I found it tough to invest much interest in it.

Charlie Cappa (Harvey Keitel) collects loans for NYC his mobster uncle Giovanni (Cesare Danova). Charlie also dates Teresa Ronchelli (Amy Robinson), though this relationship brings disapproval due to judgment related to her epilepsy.

Charlie aspires to something bigger, but he finds this difficult to achieve. In particular, Charlie deals with conflicts related to his undisciplined and borderline psychotic pal “Johnny Boy” Civello (De Niro).

In many ways, Mean Streets reminds me of a smaller-scale GoodFellas. They both focus on local mobs and they both feature "loose cannon" characters who complicate matters for everyone else.

De Niro takes that role here, and it becomes interesting to see him offer such a performance. After Mean Streets, De Niro focused more on characters who display tighter control. They lose it from time to time, but for the most part, they at least attempt to keep themselves calm and stable.

That's not the case with Johnny Boy, as he's about as careless and irresponsible as they come. De Niro opens himself up more than usual and creates a broad characterization of Johnny Boy. While this becomes interesting to see, it makes him less believable, since one would assume someone would have dealt severely with this jerk some time ago.

The only real explanation for why Johnny Boy didn’t get handed his lungs stems from the fact that Charlie seems to feel the need to act as Johnny's guardian angel. He spends most of the movie struggling to extricate Johnny from his self-created jams. It never appears very clear to me why Charlie is so dedicated to Johnny, and that vagueness spills over to Keitel's performance.

Charlie's the main character in Mean Streets but it never feels that way. In fact, every role seems to fall in the “supporting” realm.

I think Keitel's work here seems rather flat. He's not bad, but he never brings anything especially compelling to the part.

Ultimately, I feel the same way about the movie itself. Yes, it's fun to see how it foreshadows Scorsese's style and later work - one scene when Johnny Boy walks through a bar accompanied by “Jumping Jack Flash” really stands out in that regard - but as a film, it simply doesn't hold up very well after all these years.

The movie lacks focus and conviction, so it seems to be more of a random assemblage of moments than a concrete story, and most of those moments aren't terribly interesting. Mean Streets offers little for anyone who's not a Scorsese fanatic.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C-/ Bonus B

Mean Streets appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite the film’s low-budget origins, it looked good.

Sharpness appeared solid. Only minor hints of softness ever manifested themselves, and they resulted mainly from the restrictions of the shooting conditions. Overall, the picture felt accurate and appropriately defined.

I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes remained absent. Grain felt natural, and I witnessed no print flaws.

Blacks were appropriately firm and dense. The many low-light shots demonstrated good delineation and accuracy.

I encountered potential controversy when I examined the movie’s colors, as Mean Streets leaned toward a fairly heavy blue/teal vibe much of the time. We got plenty of reds at bars as well as some amber, but otherwise, this tint dominated.

The question became whether the Criterion image replicated the hues as intended in 1973 or they got “re-graded” for this release. My guess? The latter, though it could be tough to determine.

I checked out the trailer included in this set via the theory it would potentially offer a representation of the colors circa 1973. This promo did seem a bit less teal than the feature film, but it still came with some of that tint.

The application of these tones seemed inconsistent, as some shots felt more blue than others. I tended to examine shirts to discern the scale of the teal, as those should come across as white.

Sometimes they did, sometimes they exhibited a cyan vibe. Scenes that leaned toward that red impression offered the whitest shirts, but other shots lacked the teal influence as well.

So what’s a self-respecting critic to do? On one hand, I feel this transfer likely altered the original palette, but on the other, it came with filmmaker approval.

As such, I went with a “B+” for visuals. The movie showed its low budget roots and I wasn’t wild about the apparent alteration of original colors, but the presentation still succeeded within its present goals.

The LPCM monaural soundtrack of Mean Streets seemed erratic, and the main problem came from the music. The film used tons of pop/rock songs for its score along with other source recordings, and according to the disc’s commentary, these were transferred from Martin Scorsese’s own record collection.

Because of that, the quality of the music often appeared weak. Occasionally a song sounded decent - the Rolling Stones' “Tell Me” being one of the more acceptable examples - but most of the tracks appeared harsh and distorted.

Check out the Ronettes' “Be My Baby” at the start of the film, as it delivered a shrill sonic disaster. I hoped it would be an exception, but it was closer to the rule. Plenty of other terrible sounding songs occurred as well, like the screechy reproduction of the Marvelettes’ “Please Mister Postman”.

Speech sounded fairly well-defined and intelligible. The lines weren’t truly natural – partly due to occasional instances of iffy looping – but dialogue nonetheless held up fine given age/origins.

Effects didn’t present much definition or depth, and they occasionally suffered from minor distortion. Still, they came across as acceptable. Nothing here impressed, but much of that stemmed from the source, so the mix represented the flawed original track about as well as it could.

How did this 2023 Criterion Blu-ray compare to the original BD from 2012? Audio felt similar, so I’d be hard-pressed to determine any obvious differences between the two mono tracks.

Visuals seemed pretty equivalent as well, with the possible exception of the apparently altered palette of the Criterion Blu-ray. Unfortunately, I no longer possess the 2012 BD, so I can’t compare the colors directly.

Everything else about the two images seemed pretty equivalent. The 2012 BD already became a nice reproduction of the film, so I saw no obvious improvements here – and the Criterion might offer a step back related to its palette.

The Criterion set mixes old and new extras, and we open with a select-scene commentary from director Martin Scorsese and actor Amy Robinson. Both were recorded separately and their remarks were edited together for this non-screen-specific track.

As implied, the piece skips through a few parts of the movie and doesn’t cover the film’s entire 112-minute running time. Instead, the commentary goes for one hour, 17 minutes, 25 seconds.

Nonetheless, it’s a very good track. Unsurprisingly, Scorsese dominates with a broad and expansive discussion.

He discusses the personal roots of the movie and gets into his initial interest in films as well as his early days as a director and how this led to Streets. Among other topics, Scorsese also chats about the characters and their connections to his real life as well as his use of music in the flick.

Robinson pops up less frequently and covers fairly similar subjects like her casting, the dynamic film scene of the early 1970s, and working with the others. A lot of great information comes out through this informative and compelling piece.

In addition to the movie’s theatrical trailer, we also get Martin Scorsese: Back on the Block, a vintage circa 1973 featurette. It runs six minutes, 56 seconds as we see movie clips and candid footage and hear remarks about the flick from Scorsese and two childhood friends on whom some characters were based.

We learn a little about the reality behind the film and the locations and other filming circumstances. It’s fairly insubstantial but it still provides a nice look at some behind the scenes elements.

The remaining extras come new to the 2023 Criterion release, and Martin Scorsese with Richard Linklater comes first. Shot at a 2011 DGA presentation of Mean Streets, the two filmmakers chat for 29 minutes, 40 seconds.

They discuss aspects of the film’s production as well as its place in Scorsese’s career and its legacy. Some of this repeats from the commentary but we nonetheless get a pretty solid chat.

A Body Among Other Bodies offers a 2023 video essay. Created by author Imogen Sara Smith, it spans 29 minutes,

Here Smith digs into the movie’s narrative, characters, themes and cinematic techniques. She adds good insights.

Next comes a 2011 Interview with Kent Wakeford. This delivers a 19-minute, four-second chat with the cinematographer.

Wakeford discusses sets/locations, his collaboration with Scorsese, his work on the film and other memories. Wakeford presents a useful collection of notes.

Mardik Martin presents two segments from a 2008 documentary called Mardik: Baghdad to Hollywood. The package fills a total of nine minutes, 20 seconds and includes notes from co-writer Martin, Scorsese, journalist Peter Biskind, Writers Guild of America West VP Howard Rodman, and filmmaker Amy Heckerling.

“Hollywood” gives us some notes about Martin’s career, with an emphasis on his work with Scorsese. This turns into a short but engaging overview, especially when we see Martin and Scorsese chat together.

Finally, the set gives us a booklet that mixes art, credits and an essay from critic Lucy Sante. It finishes the release on a positive note.

Mean Streets remains one of Martin Scorsese’s least compelling movies. We can see glimmers of greatness that occasionally emerge, but as a whole it seemed to be a muddled and uncompelling affair. As for the Blu-ray, it provides strong visuals – albeit with a palette of questionable period accuracy - along with iffy audio and a few interesting bonus materials. This remains lackluster Scorsese, but it’s worth a look as a representation of the director’s early days.

To rate this film visit the DVD review of MEAN STREETS

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