Scene of the Day – Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973) | DaysAreNumbers
Hello again, dear reader. As you may have heard from my dear comrade Aneet, I have been on me holidays recently (two, in fact, sunny Valencia and not-so-sunny Northern Ireland), so I do apologise if you’re feeling as though I have abandoned you like an unwanted infant of late.
However, whilst I was on my travels I got to thinking about how I could keep you lot informed about fantastic films more regular, like. Even when I’m not too busy slurping sangria or gobbling down potato farls, I do like to get somewhat in-depth about my films. Therefore, how could I go about hitting you with some film fun that’s a little bit more fast-paced, and on an (almost) daily basis?
Then it hit me… It’s time for a new feature; Scene of the Day! The cinematic equivalent of Aneet’s awesome Single of the Day, because after all, if you think about it, are “scenes” not to films what “singles” are to albums? OK, don’t think about it too much…
Everyone’s got their favourite scenes, sometimes even regardless of whether they like the film as a whole or not, so from here on in you’re going to find out what some of mine are (and please tell me about some of your favourites, too). But, what could I do for my inaugral Scene of the Day?
Well, an opening scene would be good, and all very appropriate, to boot. There’s an almost literal infinity of great opening scenes in cinema history, and of those, many feature a great song parping away excitingly over the introductionary action. Sometimes that song is so well chosen, and that piece of music accompanies the opening reel so perfectly, that the two are destined to be forever linked in the celluloid ether (ok, so a song can be memorable in any scene of a film, but opening sequences have the highest strike rate; Reservoir Dogs, Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy etc.).
The greatest, most legendary example of this is Mean Streets. Who, after all, can’t hear the heart-stopping opening drum beat of ‘Be My Baby’ without immediately picturing Harvey Keitel’s troubled head falling back on the pillow? More recently, of course, you might also think about the wig-wearing, gun-welding, soiled genius who wrote and produced that song for The Ronettes, but remarkably Phil Spector almost demanded ’Be My Baby’ be taken off the start of Mean Streets.
Seemingly Martin Scorsese had included the girl-group classic in his film without first seeking the necessary permission (a common practise back then; see also the legal nightmare that engulfed Charles Burnett’s similar Killer of Sheep), and when an irate Spector was shown an early release print by none other than John Lennon, he demanded that Warner Bros. pull the whole thing. It was only after Lennon (who dearly loved the film) talked him round that the mole-like mogul relented, and agreed to let the studio continue to distribute the film, but he stayed bitter about it for many years to come. In the warped world of Phil Spector the inclusion of his song was to become solely responsible for the future success of both Scorsese and his young star, Robert De Niro.
That opinion is rather far-fetched, of course, but you can’t deny that Spector’s music and Scorsese’s brilliant use of fuzzy, evocative home movies melded to create the perfect calling card for the director. Scorsese had used music marvellously in film before (check out his underseen debut Who’s That Knocking at My Door), but Mean Streets was to announce him as a hugely influential and pioneering pop-picker.
‘Be My Baby’ serves as the perfect overture to this seminal mob morality tale, perhaps the greatest comi-tragedy (coining a variation on the phrase there, as the former eventually outweighs the latter) ever to take place on New York’s famous “Mean Streets”. As I’m sure you’ve all seen it (and if you haven’t, tut, tut, tut), I’m just going to invite you all to kick back, enjoy, and welcome to Scene of the Day.
All together now… “You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit and you know it.” Oh, and… “What’s a fuckin’ mook?”