Charlie Begins to Break Down in Mean Streets

Mean Streets is quite possibly one of my favorite films of all-time. If you haven’t seen it, you must. It’s an early Scorsese work that gives you a glimpse of all that is to come from Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ through Goodfellas and, hell, even Kundun.

One of the most memorable scenes is below. On the surface, Charlie (Keitel) is enjoying himself at a party, but it’s more than a celebration. It’s more than dancing. It’s a turning point in the film as his character tries, but continues to fail at saving his friends. This scene is a breaking point for Charlie as the reality of his world begins to burn through and the facade crumbles away. There’s an onset of pain. Charlie even comments at one point:

“It’s all bullshit except the pain. The pain of hell. The burn from a lighted match increased a million times. Infinite. Now, ya don’t fuck around with the infinite. There’s no way you do that. The pain in hell has two sides. The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart… your soul, the spiritual side. And ya know… the worst of the two is the spiritual.”

Scorsese famously strapped a camera to Keitel to gain this effect and let the camera roll in a single run-on shot. He cut the sound, and played The Chips doo-wop song “Rubber Biscuit” as the soundtrack.

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