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Scorsese Returns to Lincoln Center Film Society

Goodfella Martin Scorsese Returns to Lincoln Center Film Society's Walter Reade Theater  for an Intimate Night of  "Mean Streets" and  Q & A

                Rest assured: film director Martin Scorsese's legacy as perhaps the greatest living American director is secure. Seeing him in the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center's Film Society Tuesday was both a privilege for film fans, knowing that his passion for filmmaking is equally matched by his almost religious attentiveness to film preservation. Fittingly before the film began, Scorsese quipped, "hope the print is still good" within the halls of the one of the most prestigious film centers in the world. 

                Scorsese, 69, has put together one of the longest, enduring and fascinating film directing careers.  Today,  he is at his most productive, working on film and TV projects left and right, and recently nominated for a Best Director Golden Globe for his 3D epic Hugo.  Film aficionados were treated to an intimate night, and chance to listen to the creator of Mean Streets reminisce about his own early life on the "mean streets," and also about the making of the film.    

                When Akira Kurosawa received an Honorary Academy Award late in his life, he said there was still more to learn about the cinema. To most film purists, this seemed absurd knowing that Kurosawa was such a foremost influence of cinema.   Scorsese showed similar humility while speaking of his early film days, even revealing being fired as director of the film "Honeymoon Killers," and how he was abruptly replaced by Leonard Kastle in 1969.

                Working within the Hollywood system for a few years after his premiere film, Who's That Knocking at My Door, he directed Boxcar Bertha for producer Roger Corman, as "an exercise," he explained,  "to make a full-length feature."   Director and friend John Cassavetes told him that he ought to make more authentic New York pictures, which should come from the  heart. Scorsese listened, and soon made Mean Streets, which premiered in 1973, about a small-time hood struggling to succeed in the tough neighborhood of Little Italy. He viewed it as a "counter-weight" to Who's That Knocking at My Door, which also depicted the gritty New York Streets, and was heavily influenced by Cassavetes' improvisational and coarse Shadows.   "There existed a malevolent nature of the crowd," Sco rsese remembered about growing up in Lower Manhattan.. "Perhaps the sounds of New York growing up is what became a part of your  subconscious, almost like a score to  your life," and in a deadpan manner said, it was "pretty miserable," yet wholly authentic.

                Scorsese grew up on the "mean streets" of Lirrle Italy, off Elizabeth Street. As a student, and soon to be  professor at Washington Square College (or New York University) he felt as though he was living a "split universe," with the intensity of  diverse cultures, and a bevy of distinct attitudes only blocks away between Greenwich Village and Little Italy. Thus, he remembers having had a "mad compulsion to make this picture."

                Upon its premiere, Mean Streets, "received some good reviews, and also some hilariously bad," Scorsese recalled.  The headline of The New York Times sneered , "who cares about these people"  of Mean Streets?  Well, for Scorsese "these people" were "his people," and the kinds of thugs he knew and could hardly avoid while growing up in "the malevolent, mean streets of New York."

                Scorsese explained that while many of the exteriors shot in the film were in New York, some of the indoor shots were filmed in Los Angeles.  Saying it was  nearly impossible to find those particular "narrow-tiled hallways" that were iconic New York backdrops, it was, in fact,  a bit frustrating in creating the authenticity.  He commented that Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront was really "the first film that defined itself as New York."

                 Indeed, this New York evening with Scorsese was an intimate experience with the greatest of American --and quintessentially New York --- directors., far beyond the early, gritty lower Manhattan of his early days.  

BY JARED FELDSCHREIBER

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