Martin Scorsese has in most of his interviews opened up to state that the culture that he grew up in influenced and still has an influence on the cultures upon which the movies he directs are based upon. In this discussion, the attention will focus on his 1972 film, Mean Streets. Though he had been through the training of another director, Mr. Corman, the movie that granted him the breakthrough into the entertainment arena was actually motivated by the situations and events that he was exposed to in his upbringing.
In this discussion, there will be some light shed on claim that, what each human being undergoes as a child has a great impact on the shape and patterns that his adult life takes. When Martin as a young director was granted the opportunity to direct a movie, he want for what he had endured and witnessed as a child. This discussion will focus on the relationship between the style he adopted in the movie and the themes portrayed. In the movie, there is bloody violence, macho posturing, gritty New York locale despite the majority of the movie being shot in Los Angeles, rapid fire editing, a rock soundtrack, Catholic guilt and the redemption. All this aspects in the movie have either direct or indirect relationships to his upbringing as will be discussed below.
Apart from Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese has directed has been hailed as an influential and significant filmmaker of all time for other movies such as Goodfellas, Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. All this movies have a common identity in that, they demonstrate the themes of either gang violence and conflict, modern crime, machismo, Italian American identity or the concepts of Roman Catholic concepts of redemption and guilt. In this case however, the focus is in his first film, Mean Streets which has all of this themes. It is his childhood experiences that motivated the themes and it is the same childhood that prepared him to be what he is today, a winner of the Academy Award for Best Director in 2006 plus the seven Best Director nominations. To identify how his upbringing compares to the themes in Mean Street, it would be wise to analyze his childhood.
The Early Life of Martin Scorsese
The now famous movie director was born and brought up in New York. The birth place was Timonium in Maryland after which his entire family migrated to Manhattan more specifically the Little Italy section where his education was initiated. The father, Mr. Jared Scorsese worked at the Garment District of New York and was also an actor as well as clothes presser. The mother to the entertainment icon was Catherine Scorsese and also worked at the Garment District of New York while she still had the time to be an actor as well as a seamstress. His grandparents, the parents to his father, had emigrated from Polizzi Generosa which is in the province of Palermo. Therefore, they both descended from Italy.
As a young boy, Martin Scorsese had developed asthma. Unlike other children, he was restricted from playing to avoid exposing him to risky conditions that would cause his health to depreciate further. He acknowledges that as he watched other children play through the window, he would listen closely as his father and the uncle talked about various films. As a result therefore, his older brother and the caring mother would often take him to movie theatres thus he could not be extremely bored due to limitations to sports participation. After his multiple moments in the theatres, he started developing passion for cinema which at the current moment we can say has paid off. His asthmatic condition was indirectly shaping up his success and directing him to his talented passion, film making. Martin Scorsese broadly acknowledges that his favorite actors at this period were Victor Mature and Sabu while he adds that the film Black Narcissus influenced his thinking especially about the innovative techniques had adopted.
Martin was not immune to cultural forces, in this case religion. Martin Scorsese decided to become a Roman Catholic priest. This was influenced by the fact that even those that he noted bosses of crime in the neighborhood associated themselves and in addition respected the clergy. At the age of 14 years, he joined the theological college to pursue what he hoped would be his long term destiny. However, as his puberty kicked in, there was change of heart and in the early 1950s, a seduction to enjoy rock and roll overcame his desire for priesthood.
After the admiration for rock and roll, he progressed to have an increased interest in girls. The most obvious and expected outcome was for him to be expelled completely from the seminary due to undermining of celibacy. After the chances of becoming a priest diminished to absolutely nothing, Martin Scorsese decided to expound his passion for movies and that is why he joined the NYU he later graduated in the year 1964. This are the periods in which he met his first wife.
Having analyzed how Martin Scorsese development, it is now appropriate to analyze the movie Mean Streets and identify the relationships and possible connections either direct or indirect. This has been discussed below.
The Connection between Mean Streets and His Upbringing
In the plot for the film, Charlie is in continuous attempts to try and rise in the ranks of a New York Mafia. There is a collision between Michael the loan shark in a bar. The result is guns being pulled. Towards the end of the movie, the henchman shoots Johnny on the neck while Charlie’s hand is hit resulting to a car crash. The film ends with the arrival of paramedics and the police. This plot seems to be influenced by the Manhattan Street’s events that he had endured. Martin had dwelled in these streets. It had been tough, as a youth, the Italians had the responsibility to raise funds to feed themselves. Actually it was tough. He expresses the issues that immigrants in such streets had to endure. To begin with, they did not have a clear understanding of English so they would not take positions providing power. In one of his interviews, Martin notes that the gangs were not necessarily bad, as a matter of fact some of those gang figures developed to be village elders in this streets thus advocated for things to work out between people while they settled family disputes.
Charlie in the Mean Streets, descends from the Italian-American culture. The same as Martin’s. One of the barriers or the factor holding him back from becoming the Mafia he desires is the issue of religion. The commitment to the Roman Catholic is a bothering issue that slows his desire to immediately be a Mafia. With the progress of the film, Johnny develops to be a character that is disrespectful and also self-destructive to the creditors. When Charlie fails to acquire redemption from the Roman Catholic Church, he decides to sacrifice himself for the sake of Johnny. Looking at how things turn out in this flow of events, they directly relate to Martin’s childhood. It goes back to his teenage years when he had decided to join the seminary to become a priest but after he developed desire for rock music and girls, he was distanced from this religion. May be this is why upon the start of the film, the background voice narrates that one shouldn’t make for their sins in church, it should be at home or in the streets. In this case therefore, Martin has carried his social life from his childhood to his groundbreaking film.
While Martin has adopted the themes that he had been exposed to as a young one, it is appropriate to state that he has structured and designed his characters and innovativeness through the favorite actors he knew as a child and the movies he liked. These movies and actors include Victor Mature and Sabu, Bicycle Thieves and Black Narcissus respectively. In addition, the fact the environment in which he was exposed to allowed him to learn a lot about movies and this may have resulted to the diverse content that he had and the imaginative sense that he had. This environment would refer to the fact that his father was an actor, the mother had been an actress, when he developed asthma, he was either indoors listening to his father and uncle talk about films or in most cases, the mother and elder brother would take him out to the theatres.
In conclusion therefore, the plot, themes, characters, the creativity and the motivation of Martin Scorsese in directing and writing the film Mean Streets all came from his early life and the development that followed. It can be concluded hereby that, had Martin not been exposed to such social issues and lineage, he may not have had this film as his ladder to fame and success. The other films that came after this work of 1972 all have the similarity of themes such as family, violence and Roman Catholic all because they are influenced by his childhood.
"Martin Scorsese; Telling Stories through Film." The Washington Times 30 Nov. 2007: 13. Print.
Mean streets. Dir. Martin Scorsese. Perf. Charlie, Johnny, Teresa. Carlotta [distrib.], 1972. DVD.
"The Martin Scorsese Handbook - Everything you need to know about Martin Scorsese." Scribd. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://www.scribd.com/doc/112152531/The-Martin-Scorsese-Handbook-Everything-you-need-to-know-about-Martin-Scorsese>.