Mean Streets is on one level a film about storytelling. The main characters all tell stories, fabricate characters, situations, etc. It is on one level a cultural thing that deeply affects Scorsese. On the other hand, it is Scorsese’s love letter to the art of narrative and human expression. Scorsese’s films always seem so human to me because they are both completely absurd and false, and yet true to that falsehood, loving and nurturing it as an integral part of being human.

Some things about Mean Streets that are false: the redness of the bar, much of Johnny Boy’s characterization (and the other mafiosos, for that matter). Pretty much everything about Teresa–at one point she’s a stupid Italian chick, at another she’s a beautiful, elegant lady. The film’s soundtrack. The dialogue. The tone.

But Mean Streets also speaks truth, in part because of these crazy characters and stories. The editing makes the film a film in an obvious way, but it also represents human experience and memory on a deep level. We remember and live moments, not neatly constructed story arcs. We are one place and then we’re somewhere else. Time passes. And, in our memories and understanding of the world, we often craft imperfect approximations of people and places. We remember someone from high school as a character in our lives, rather than a fully-fleshed human being. And that’s okay. We tell the story of a person, or a place, or an idea because we get at the heart of the thing we want to represent. And, in our lies, we tell a truth.

Scorsese knows all this stuff. He loves story because he loves what it means to be human. Yes, Mean Streets and many of his later films are depressing, or attempts at understanding masculinity and its prolific flaws (certainly no more prolific than the flaws associated with femininity, however). Or  he examines crime, Catholicism, and any other number of themes that seem heavy and difficult. Weighty. Scorsese is concerned with all of these things. But he is also concerned with story, and with the basic human desire to talk and relate and whisper truths in the dark.