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Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese (1973)

My 1970’s mini-festival continues. I’d forgotten what an intimate affair this movie is; with its small cast and constricted sense of space (almost everything happens in the bar where the guys hang out) it could almost be a play. I guess I’d always unthinkingly classified Mean Streets as a bloody shoot’em up gangster picture, but it really isn’t at all. You don’t see a gun until more than 45 minutes into the picture, and you can count the number of bullets fired in the entire movie on your fingers and toes. Can you imagine a contemporary movie about small-time hoods taking that long to start up the blasting? It’s also just fascinating in general to see how big a deal it is to have a gun in this movie. When one does appear, everyone gets absolutely reverent. How things have changed! These days guns are as unremarkable as toothbrushes. Actually, you probably see far more guns than toothbrushes on the screen.

Anyway. The movie’s really about the relationships between a handful of desperately bored friends obsessed with finding ways to amuse themselves and impress each other. Weirdly, it kept reminding me of college. Tightly confined spaces both physical and social, lots of intense relationships, lots of booze, constant oscillation between hysterical self-confidence and crushing fear, going deeply into debt with no foreseeable way of ever getting out. Above all: the insane conviction that self-destruction is the best escape from banality.

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