Martin Scorsese's breakthrough film gets the 4K treatment for its 50th anniversary and this impeccable Criterion edition instantly outclasses every previous home video release. With style and insight, Mean Streets paints a memorable portrait of New York City's Italian-American youth as it examines their camaraderie, conflicts, and code of ethics. Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel shine in early roles and a brand new 4K restoration struck from the original camera negative, robust audio, and fine array of extras make this the definitive presentation of a Scorsese classic. Highly Recommended.
It's no secret Mean Streets made a star of actor Robert De Niro, whose brash, free-wheeling portrayal of an irresponsible, small-time hood earned him a couple of notable critic's awards. More importantly, though, this slice-of-life tale of New York's Little Italy and the aspiring wiseguys who roam the neighborhood put a young filmmaker named Martin Scorsese on the cinematic map and paved the way for a tidal wave of artistic, visceral pictures that would dazzle audiences and advance the medium. GoodFellas and Casino never could have been made - and never would have succeeded so wildly - had it not been for Mean Streets, their gritty, low-budget cousin that coined the Scorsese style and waded into the waters of a culture that heretofore hadn't been depicted with such unflinching realism and keen perception.
Mean Streets isn't just a Scorsese film, it's Scorsese's story. If he didn't live what's up there on the screen, he witnessed it - maybe not as a cohesive narrative, but in bits and pieces throughout his formative years - and just as a writer writes what he knows, Scorsese filmed what he saw. The picture isn't quite a masterpiece, but 50 years after it premiered to great critical acclaim, it remains a searing, deeply personal study of ambition, guilt, bravado, and brotherhood, as well as a stunning and auspicious piece of moviemaking.
Mean Streets unfolds in a leisurely fashion, meandering along as it charts the day-to-day existence of a group of good friends. We see the bluster, boasting, boozing, brawling, and bonding that define the Italian-American way of life, as well as the sober ties of duty and honor that guide their destinies. These cronies may be glorified errand boys, collecting fees and roughing up delinquent debtors, but they aspire to a lofty position within the all-important family, a goal that can be instantly and devastatingly quashed by one small misstep.
Charlie (Harvey Keitel) is the film's central character, a young man whose deep religious fervor inspires guilt as he performs deeds and follows codes that go against the way of God. His relationship with Teresa (Amy Robinson), a feisty Jewish girl, engenders gentle yet firm consternation from his powerful uncle, as does his friendship with and protection of Johnny Boy (De Niro), an often hapless, self-indulgent screw-up who has a pending debt of his own to settle...and he's missed a critical payment. As the deadline for the next installment looms, Charlie tries to crack Johnny Boy's stubborn veneer and help him avoid the family's very serious wrath, even as issues in his own life come to a critical juncture.
Mean Streets is low-budget moviemaking at its best, with real locations and no-frills artistry providing true grit to a down-and-dirty story. Plot plays second fiddle to the development of characters and depiction of a unique lifestyle, and the script, co-written by Scorsese and Mardik Martin (Raging Bull), paints a rich portrait filled with nuances and peppered with memorable episodes and exchanges. Despite its lofty reputation today, Mean Streets is still the work of a young director trying to find his voice. Rough edges abound, but they suit the material and wind up enhancing the finished product. Even at a tender age (he was just 30 at the time), Scorsese possesses an enviable command of his camera, favoring lengthy, fluid follow shots whenever he can finagle them. Though his talent would grow by leaps and bounds in the years that followed, the seeds of greatness are on full display here.
Keitel brings quiet strength and deceptive complexity to Charlie, a man pulled in different directions by opposing forces. His sober calm strikingly offsets the outspoken passion of Robinson and De Niro's unbridled wildness. Nobody plays a punk like De Niro and his cocky grin, mischievous glint, and arrogant strut make his skinny frame seem more imposing. So many undercurrents coarse through him, it's tough to concentrate on anyone else while he's on screen. Like Scorsese, De Niro's talent here is raw and unrefined, but the magic is unmistakable and it's easy to see why his career took off after this picture.
Mean Streets is one of those films that grows in stature with each viewing, as its subtleties wield greater impact and its story gains a heightened degree of resonance. The movie is notable not only for its genuine artistic merits, but also as a deeply personal work for its director and for marking the first of several fruitful and exciting pairings between Scorsese and De Niro that would yield some of the greatest movies of our time. Mean Streets may only have been Scorsese's third feature film, but with quiet confidence and grace it shows us not only where the director comes from, but also where he's going.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Mean Streets arrives on 4K UHD packaged in a standard Criterion case. The two-disc set includes a 4K UHD disc with Dolby Vision HDR and a standard Blu-ray that houses the film and all the supplements. A 12-page fold-out booklet featuring an essay by critic Lucy Sante, cast and crew listings, transfer notes, and a couple of illustrations is tucked inside the front cover. Video codec is 2160p/HEVC H.265 with Dolby Vision HDR and audio is uncompressed mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu immediately pops up; no promos or previews precede it.
The 1080p transfer on the 2012 Warner Home Video Blu-ray is quite good, but this 2160p/HEVC H.265 rendering with Dolby Vision HDR by Criterion supplies just enough additional clarity, depth of color, and vibrancy to merit an upgrade. The liner notes state, "Approved by director Martin Scorsese and collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker, this new digital master was created from the 35 mm original camera negative, which was scanned in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner." The natural grain structure remains intact and lends the picture a palpable film-like feel that heightens the story's gritty, urban nature. Texture levels fluctuate throughout depending on light levels and camera equipment, but even when they're heavy they never overwhelm the image. Background details are crisper than they appear on the 2012 Blu-ray, contrast is more pronounced, wardrobe patterns are vivid and stable, and though sporadic incidents of crush are unavoidable due to some very murky nocturnal shots, shadow delineation is quite good overall. Blacks are rich, the bright whites never bloom, and flesh tones look authentic and remain consistent throughout.
The enhanced color spectrum of Dolby Vision also provides some added punch. Reds really pop, whether they're bold (Teresa's sweater, the walls of the classy Italian restaurant) or muted (the red lighting in the bar scenes that bathes the screen), but the green felt on the billiard table and pale blue-green diner walls make statements, too. Close-ups are razor sharp, highlighting pores, facial hair and stubble, glistening sweat, and moles. (An extreme close-up of Keitel showcases individual eyelashes, hair follicles, and the contours of his teeth.) Just like the 2012 Blu-ray, no nicks, marks, or scratches mar the source.
Criterion also includes a 1080p Blu-ray disc in this set and the differences between it and Warner's 2012 Blu-ray are negligible, so if you're happy with your 2012 Blu-ray and have no interest in 4K UHD, an upgrade is not necessary. Mean Streets and Scorsese fans, however, who are also 4K enthusiasts will likely want to embrace this top-quality 4K UHD presentation, especially when you factor in all the marvelous extras reviewed below.
According to the liner notes, "the original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35 mm DME magnetic track by the Criterion Collection." The robust, well-balanced track sounds almost identical to the one on the 2012 Blu-ray. Excellent fidelity and a wide dynamic scale help the varied musical stylings, ranging from Motown and The Rolling Stones to opera, fill the room with ease. Sonic accents like gunfire, screeching tires, the mailbox explosion, and shattering glass are distinct, while subtleties like street noise, footsteps in church, and faint sirens supply essential atmosphere. Dialogue is generally clear and comprehendible, although some mumbling, over-exuberance, and cross-talking occasionally obscure isolated phrases. Distortion is never an issue and no surface noise disrupts the smoothness of this impressive track.
Criterion supplies plenty of new supplements, but also imports the extras from the 2012 Blu-ray.
"Talking About Mean Streets: Martin Scorsese and Richard Linklater" (HD, 30 minutes) - In this collection of clips from an on-stage discussion between Scorsese and Linklater following a 2011 Directors Guild of America screening of Mean Streets, Scorsese talks about his personal connection to the film, some of the real-life events he wove into the narrative, and the important role music plays in the story. He also recalls how his mentor Roger Corman tried to convince him to make Mean Streets with an all-black cast, how he secured a studio to distribute the movie, and how Francis Ford Coppola cast De Niro in The Godfather, Part II the day after Scorsese screened Mean Streets for him.
Selected-Scene Commentary (77 minutes) - Scorsese and actress Amy Robinson remark on selected scenes in this insightful 2004 commentary that brims with potent observations, engaging anecdotes, and thoughtful reflections. (This is the same commentary that's included on the 2012 Blu-ray minus the observations by co-writer Mardik Martin, who for some unexplained reason has been deleted from the track.) Scorsese says Mean Streets is "not really a film, it's kind of a declaration of who I am, how I was living, and the thoughts and dilemmas and conflicts that were very much a part of my life up to that time." He talks about his early life and film career, analyzes Italian culture and morality, discusses personal and artistic influences, and explains how the movie came to fruition amid the period's cinematic landscape. Scorsese also relates how he assembled the pop music score and how the comedy of Abbott & Costello and Bob Hope and Bing Crosby mimics the interactions of the characters on screen and his neighborhood friends in real life. Robinson recalls how she got the part of Teresa, related to the character, and serendipitously found herself in the epicenter of 1970s moviemaking. Anyone who enjoys Mean Streets will get a lot out of this substantive track, which adds essential context and welcome perspective to an important film.
Video Essay: "Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets: A Body Among Other Bodies" (HD, 29 minutes) - Film critic Imogen Sara Smith describes Mean Streets as "not so much a film you watch but rather a world you enter" in this probing and thoughtful video essay. Smith praises the movie's "verité roughness" and uncomfortable intimacy, compares Mean Streets to Fellini's 1953 film I Vitelloni, examines the physicality and brotherhood that courses through it, and analyzes its characters and conflicts. She also looks at the symbiotic relationship between Keitel and De Niro, the narrative's religious undercurrents, the film's color palette, and the role movies themselves play in Mean Streets.
Interview with Kent Wakeford (HD, 19 minutes) - In this 2011 interview, the Mean Streets cinematographer talks about the film's locations (most of which were in L.A.), recalls his desire to make "a nervous, edgy, alive film," describes the challenges of using a handheld camera, and shares his memories of working with Scorsese. Wakeford also divulges that he broke a lot "rules" during shooting and reveals why the bar scenes are shot through a red filter.
Documentary Excerpts: Mardik: Baghdad to Hollywood (HD, 9 minutes) - Two excerpts from this 2008 documentary focus on co-screenwriter Mardik Martin's collaborations with Scorsese on Mean Streets and Italianamerican. The joint interview with Martin and Scorsese is the highlight of this entertaining piece.
Vintage Featurette: Martin Scorsese: Back on the Block (SD, 7 minutes) - This 1973 promotional featurette that was also included on the 2012 Blu-ray follows Scorsese and two of his friends as they visit the New York areas depicted in the film and reminisce about their boyhood time together.
Trailer (HD, 4 minutes) - The film's original preview features an array of clips along with printed snippets from the rave reviews Mean Streets received.
Mean Streets is a seminal film for Martin Scorsese and a half century after its premiere it remains a resonating portrait of relationships, ethnicity, traditions, and the maturation process. With breakout performances by Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, this slice-of-life drama lays the groundwork for Scorsese's greatest triumphs and stands on its own as a first-rate work. It also looks amazing in 4K with Dolby Vision HDR. Criterion's Ultra HD presentation outclasses the 2012 Blu-ray, thanks to a new, high-quality, Scorsese-approved 4K digital restoration, potent audio, and an impressive supplemental package. This is the definitive home video edition of Mean Streets and it comes very Highly Recommended.
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