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.

About J. R. Angelella

J. R. Angelella is the author of the popular debut novel ZOMBIE: A NOVEL (Soho Press) and a contributing author to the murder-mystery anthology WHO DONE IT? (Soho Teen), benefiting the nonprofit organization 826NYC. His short fiction has appeared in numerous journals, including Sou’wester, JMWW, The Collagist, Literary Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal and The Nervous Breakdown. His short story “Sauce” won the 2012 Short Story Contest held by The Coachella Review. He received a BA in English Literature from Ithaca College and an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars at Bennington College. He taught creative writing at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop in New York City and currently teaches professional writing at the University of Maryland at College Park. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, the writer Kate Angelella.
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