Mean Streets appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. That gives it a leg up on the prior DVD of Streets, which failed to feature anamorphic enhancement. That release was something of a mess, but this one improved on it radically.
Sharpness appeared solid. Only minor hints of softness ever manifested themselves, and they resulted mainly from the restrictions of the shooting conditions. Overall, the picture looked accurate and appropriately defined. I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, but a little edge enhancement popped up at times. Whereas the old DVD suffered from tons of print flaws, the new one looked astonishingly clean. It displayed some grain that clearly came from the flick’s film stock and low-light shots, so those elements weren’t a problem. Otherwise, the movie lacked almost any signs of the spots, marks and other defects that marred the old transfer; I saw a couple of specks and that was it.
Colors were a little erratic and could go from fairly vibrant to somewhat dense. However, the concerns stayed minor and they reflected the restrictions of the film stock. In general, the hues appeared pretty well-defined, and the transfer held them well, even when we found red lighting. Blacks were appropriately firm and dense, and the many low-light shots demonstrated good delineation and accuracy. This transfer was a revelation and made Streets look better than ever.
The monaural soundtrack of Mean Streets also improved on the terrible audio of the old disc, but not by as significant a degree. One big problem continued to come from the music. The film used tons of pop/rock songs for its score along with other source recordings, and according to the commentary, these were transferred from Scorsese’s own record collection. Because of that, the quality of the music often appeared weak. Occasionally a song sounds decent - the Rolling Stones' “Tell Me” being one of the more acceptable examples - but most of the tracks are harsh and terribly distorted. Check out the Ronettes' “Be My Baby” at the start of the film - it was a grating disaster. I hoped it would be an exception, but it was closer to the rule.
Those elements seemed about the same on the prior DVD, but the rest of the track improved moderately. Speech still sounded somewhat distant, but the lines came across as better defined and more intelligible, as I didn’t notice as much edginess or issues with clarity. I still detected the poor dubbing that occasionally popped up in the prior DVD, but that remained inevitable, as it’s part of the original. Effects didn’t present much definition or depth, and they occasionally suffered from minor distortion. Still, they came across as a bit tighter and cleaner than in the past. Nothing much seemed good about the audio of Streets, but much of that stemmed from the source, and at least this track improved upon what I heard on the previous DVD.
While not packed with extras, this new version of Mean Streets comes with a few. Most significantly, we find an audio commentary from director Martin Scorsese and actor Amy Robinson. Both were recorded separately and their remarks were edited together for this non-screen-specific track. Actually, the piece skips through a few parts of the movie and doesn’t cover its entire 112-minute running time; the commentary fills 81 minutes and 31 seconds.
Nonetheless, it’s a very good track. Unsurprisingly, Scorsese dominates with a broad and expansive discussion. He discusses the personal roots of the movie and gets into his initial interest in films as well as his early days as a director and how this led to Streets. Among other topics, Scorsese also chats about the characters and their connections to his real life as well as his use of music in the flick. Robinson pops up less frequently and covers fairly similar subjects like her casting, the dynamic film scene of the early Seventies, and working with the others. A lot of great information comes out through this informative and compelling piece.
In addition to the movie’s theatrical trailer, we also get Martin Scorsese: Back on the Block, a period featurette about Mean Streets. It runs six minutes, 54 seconds as we see movie clips and candid footage and hear remarks about the flick from Scorsese and two childhood friends on whom some characters were based. We learn a little about the reality behind the film and the locations and other filming circumstances. It’s fairly insubstantial but it still provides a nice look at some behind the scenes elements.
Mean Streets remains one of Martin Scorsese’s least compelling movies. We can see glimmers of greatness that occasionally emerge, but as a whole it seemed to be a muddled and uncompelling affair. As for the DVD, it looked quite good, but the audio still suffered from the restrictions of the film’s era and budget. The smattering of extras adds some value, primarily due to an abbreviated but very informative audio commentary.
For those who’ve not seen Mean Streets, I’d recommend it mainly as a piece for Scorsese completists; it’s interesting from a historical point of view but it doesn’t hold up well otherwise. Fans who like it and wonder about an upgrade should definitely snare this new special edition. The picture improvements alone make it well worth the money.
Note: Mean Streets can be purchased on its own or as part of the Martin Scorsese Collection. The latter includes Streets along with the new special editions of GoodFellas, Who’s That Knocking On My Door?, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and After Hours. Separately, those five retail for $106.87, but the Collection goes for a mere $59.92. That makes it a real steal for Scorsese fans.