The first two scenes -- pasta and saints in the kitchen, street gelheads bashing skulls to a doo-wop tune -- lay out the Gospel According to Martin Scorsese. Film as sacrament, musical spectacle, lavish delectation of image and sound. Fellini’s vitelloni now have names like Sally Gaga and Smart Joey and keep chafing against each other in a Little Italy neighborhood, floating on macho swagger and bitching ("Shit, I may have to go to China for some Chinese food"). Boy (Harvey Keitel) meets Girl (Zina Bethune) on the Staten Island ferry, a nifty scene built around jittery cinephilia (his introduction to Cahiers du Cinéma: "How the hell did they ever get a hold of The Searchers?!") and the streetwise pantomime of the oddly lupine young Keitel. Cassavetes and Anger are the stylistic poles, pop music is the favored montage-lubricant. Junior Walker and the All-Stars’ "Shotgun" pops up as piercing punctuation, Ray Barretto’s "El Watusi" becomes a boogaloo bolero for wiseguys (the appearance of a gun merely heightens their dreamlike horseplay). A trip to the Copiague hills widens Keitel’s provincial horizons, though not his psychosexual Manicheanism: Women are either "broads" or "girls," Bethune is untouchable until she reveals she was raped by her previous boyfriend, suddenly she’s "a whore." His orgiastic fantasy involves a bed in an empty loft, a circling camera and the climax of The Doors’ "The End," her memory of the violation is a chiaroscuro roadside nightmare in which "Don’t Ask Me to Be Lonely" is distorted to muffle her screaming. Like the filmmaker, the characters always have a narcotizing set-piece reeling inside their brains. A rough yet hyper-sensitive film forever luxuriating in sensation, whether it’s a finger running over a pair of lips or the febrile editing that can make sacred statuary dance. Keitel in church is the presiding image, taken up in Mean Streets. With Lennard Kuras, Michael Scala, Harry Northup, and Anne Collette. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce