(Netflix Streaming, December 2016) I’m not normally a fan of elliptic artistic films driven less by plot than by contemplation of deep themes, but there is something about Youth that makes the experience entertaining, even gripping at times. Benefiting from the acting talents of Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel as veteran creators struggling with the accumulated weight of their lives, Youth ponders issues of life and death, loops into vignettes that have little to do with the plot, veers into dream sequences, and discusses the pitfalls of the creative process and fame. It is alternatively grandiose, pretentious, intimate, funny, surreal, tragic and oblique. On paper, it sounds like a terrible mishmash of everything that the writer/director Paolo Sorrentino has thought about in making the film. And yet it works. I’m not sure why. The humour helps a lot, of course, and the way the film uses Madalina Diana Ghenea’s assets gleefully feels like exploitation. But there’s also a suspicion that Youth talks about life in a blunt way, using experiences that most of us will never have (being solicited for knighthood, being unable to secure a famed actress for our newest screenplay, even resting a few weeks in a five-star hotel in the Alps) to talk spectacularly about universal issues. The quality of the images, as incongruous as they can be, also contributes to a renewed interest in the film. No matter why, Youth does succeed at creating a memorable viewing experience. Not bad for a film that many, including myself, would have thrown dismissively in the “made for Cannes” bin.
(On VHS, June 2001) Can’t remember a lot of things about Mean Streets even scant days after seeing it. I recall a gallery of younger well-known actors, including Robert de Niro. I certainly do recall a nude scene. I have jumbled memories of various violent acts. There are a few murders. There’s also a conclusion that takes the easiest way out, killing all characters after a preposterous coincidence that smacks more of screenwriter laziness than organic resolution (how else to explain a car finding another among all other car leaving New York at that moment?) Oh well. Scorsese-watchers will probably recognize elements from about half of all his later films in this one. Enjoy the references, people, because there isn’t much else. Practice makes perfect, and fortunately, this whiz-kid would go on to a few other better things…
(Second viewing, On Cable TV, June 2019) Disregard my previous review—I’m now nearly twenty years older, have seen almost all of Scorsese’s movies and can now recognize an influential mob movie when I see one. This being said, I may now like Mean Streets but it doesn’t mean I love it: as a naturalistic look at low-level New York mobsters as they go along their business, it works better as a prototype for later Scorsese movies. Episodic, rambling and low-stakes, Mean Streets is definitely steeped into early-seventies New Hollywood grimy conventions. The musical choice is terrific, there’s an “are you calling me a mook?” sequence that anticipates a later Joe Pesci scene, and we can also recognize Scorsese’s fondness for lengthy tracking shots. (Mama Scorsese even has a cameo.) The editing is tight, the actors handled well (it is fun to see Harvey Keitel as a dashing young man, not so much fun to see Robert de Niro as a psychopathic lowlife) and the religious symbolism as present as ever. Having a real ending to Mean Streets would help it, but not as much as we’d think at first given the disjointed nature of the film’s plotting.
(On VHS, December 1999) In retrospect, a rather promising debut by a guy named Quentin Tarantino. It’s also surprisingly theatrical, for such an obviously cinematographic film. Steadily -though blackly- amusing throughout, with great performances by Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi. A solid rental.
(On DVD, February 2009) This talky crime thriller has aged pretty well, all thing considered. The dialogue gets better, the lack of action isn’t as surprising, and the cut-ear scene seems positively restrained given the excesses that Tarantino and his imitators have committed ever since. The 15-year-anniversary DVD edition is filled with interesting material, from interviews with/about the fascinating personalities involved in the project, a look at the impact of the film on the indie circuit and other assorted tidbits.