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Kent Wakeford: Martin had filmed about 5 minutes of Mean Streets and didn't like what he saw. In our first meeting, Martin was very direct and said if he didn't like what I shot he 'd fire me on the spot. Martin wanted to capture the anxiety and conflict in each character. Was this a difficult technique in the early 1970's? 1970's cameras lacked the technical advancements of today. Question: Did you use this camera technique in every scene? I specifically didn't use a handheld camera in certain scenes to show contrast.
For Mean Streets, we secured the only Aeroflex BL sound camera in Los Angeles at the time. I built a shoulder unit and rigged the camera to my body to hold it in place. When the main characters were in their environment, meaning on the streets or in their bar, I used a handheld camera to give a sense of instability.
Harvey stumbled through the bar, with the batteries tied around his waist. We had to grab the feeling of movement, fear, aggression. The actors fought their way around the bar like wild animals. Harvey Keitel's character struggled with inner demons, his devout Catholicism and life as an up-and-coming Mafioso.This process was just before the introduction of Steadicam in mid 1970's. In scenes and locations that represented a more established lifestyle, I used dollies or a still camera to contrast the gritty movement with slow and steady camera movements.Steadicam captures a similar visual effect--not as frenetic though. For example, there are scenes in a Church where the goal was to show beauty and stability in contrast to the inner conflicts and chaos of one of the main characters."Mean Streets" was shot by Kent Wakeford in shadowy, muted colors using handheld camera techniques to capture the gritty, restless and self-destructive lives of small time hoods in Little Italy New York.The cinematography by Kent Wakeford is arguably the most original for this genre at the time and has been copied endlessly in other movies, down to his audacious tracking shots.