With all the recent agita about the San Gennaro Feast, with the pressure from the new Nolitans to shorten it, to stop it, to turn it into an "artisanal" festival like the Hester Street Fair (basil popsicles! pesto cupcakes!), a reader spotted this T-shirt by the Built by Wendy boutique in "Nolita."
The shirt design recalls Scorsese's 1973 film Mean Streets and shows De Niro and Keitel in front of a Little Italy and San Gennaro backdrop. Behind them is the sign for the Built by Wendy boutique, which did not exist in 1973, and the revolver-shaped sign of perhaps the Jovino gun shop, which did exist, for over 80 years, pretty much where the boutique is now.
Underneath is a quote from Mean Streets: "I hate this feast with a passion." It sells for $45.
The quote is from the scene where Johnny Boy and Charlie are driving through quiet streets and Johnny Boy says, "Ah, feels good, huh, Charl'? Streets are empty. Nice. Minchia, thank God, I mean, with that feast on, ya can't even move in your own neighborhood now. I hate that feast with a passion."
screenshots from Mean Streets
I keep hearing this quote from people who want to talk about how residents of Little Italy have hated the feast for as long as recorded history, as evidenced by Mean Streets.
Hey, minchia, nobody said everybody always loves the feast. As for Johnny Boy, he hated a lot of things. He probably would've hated the Nolitan boutiques, too.
Besides, having Robert De Niro, in the character of Johnny Boy Civello, utter these words written by Martin Scorsese about the Feast of San Gennaro is kind of like saying, "I hate my mother." He can say it--that's his mother--but don't anybody else dare say it.
Context is everything.
Taking context into account, the quote in the film symbolizes more than mere annoyance at being inconvenienced.
Writes Vincent LoBrutto in his Scorsese biography, to Johnny Boy the feast "is an invasion of privacy.... The eyes of the world are on Little Italy during its run and this is a community that functions in secrecy."
Author Robert Casillo, in Gangster Priest, says that Johnny Boy's passionate hatred of the feast "displays an aggressive ill will antithetical to the Passion of Christ and the deeds of the martyr" Saint Gennaro.
If Johnny Boy is for darkness, the feast is for light. Ultimately, says Casillo, it is a light that cannot totally banish the darkness: "rituals and festivals commemorate and simulate sacrificial violence so as to inoculate society against it. The festival fails to do so, and violence erupts" among the young men of Mean Streets.
The light of the feast permeates Mean Streets. With its music, it spills into every alley and shadow it can reach. It fills the nearby apartments, a background thrum to the arguments inside the bedrooms, kitchens, and hallways of the tenements above. It shines on the windows where people lean out to see. But its reach has limits.
As Scorsese's camera flies up and up, high above the sparkling archways, we see the expanse of urban darkness that surrounds the feast. The lights are like the solitary brightness of a campfire in the wilderness where the dark expands ever outward, giving cover to nature's red tooth and claw.
Today those streets are still mean, but instead of violence, they are laced with pettiness.