Martin Scorsese has always been an inventive director. For Mean Streets, an early drama movie of his, he needed to make us believe Harvey Keitel was extremely drunk. Normal camerawork wouldn’t cut it, so Scorsese had the bright idea to strap the camera to Keitel’s head.
For the scene where Keitel’s Charlie has a few too many, Scorsese emulated intoxication by rigging the camera to the actor’s body. This meant the lens would maintain a close-up on Keitel’s expression, while also loosely following his movements, so we’d see just how much he’s stumbling from side to side. Sure enough, the resulting shot is enough to make anyone uneasy.
The technique would become commonplace, known as SnorriCam, after photographers and filmmakers Einar Snorri and Eiður Snorri, who helped define the technique. Films stretching back to the ’30s have examples of SnorriCam, but Mean Streets was one of the more mainstream and well-defined uses, making it something that other directors would incorporate into their repertoire. Nowadays, it’s used quite a bit in fight scenes to put us right in the middle of the action.
Released in 1973, Mean Streets is the film that started putting buzz around Scorsese’s name. It’d be Taxi Driver in 1976 where he truly became one of Hollywood’s brightest, but he was someone who always had a knack for the craft.
Netflix posted a clip of Charlie’s scene, and you can see just how woozy the camerawork makes what could otherwise be a fairly regular scene. If you haven’t seen Mean Streets, we’d recommend it!
One famous early use of the Snorricam before it was coined as such (we’ll get there) is in MEAN STREETS (1973). Scorsese’s bodycam gives us a front row seat to Charlie’s (Harvey Keitel) drunken daze, the camera fixed on his sweaty face as the background swirls in a woozy blur. pic.twitter.com/fV9ayJitOT
— NetflixFilm (@NetflixFilm) August 21, 2019
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