Some beginnings take the form of an invocation, a claiming of the space and gathering of energy. The idea has obvious liturgical resonance. Just as priests begin a liturgy with a a prayer, perhaps said as they disperse incense around a sacred space, authors, musicians, dancers, filmmakers often begin by claiming the psychological space that exists in the minds of the audience members.
In this selection from the Sufi musicians the Sabri Brothers, the first 30 seconds suggest a grabbing of attention, clapping and drumming announce that something is astir. Then, the droning of the harmonium is soon joined by voices, and we hear 90 seconds of invocation from the singer. Note how focus descends upon the performance here. The singing gathers energy inwardly amid the silence of the drums and clapping. By the 2:00 mark, the introduction has done its job and steeped us in the mindset that subsequently explodes outwardly into ecstatic praise. The introduction has cleared the way.
The beginning of Martin Scorcese’s Mean Streets takes an analogous approach. The first words are spoken in a dream from which the protagonist, Charlie (played by Harvey Keitel), awakes. The bulk of the movie takes place on the streets and in bars, public spaces where Charlie must navigate the expectations and traditions into which he was born. But first we must know, as this scene tells us, that Charlie is a person haunted by his private theology. The crucifix hanging on his bedroom wall informs it, but perhaps more important is the mirror into which he stares for a few crucial seconds.
By first stopping here, the movie can move forward into Charlie’s public existence with the viewers having glimpsed the private Charlie, one that will stay with them through the entire picture.
Thank you for reading.