On Village Life On Elizabeth Street:
What was happening at 232 Elizabeth Street was that people from one town in Sicily were coming in and staying in that one building so that 232 became Cirmina, which is a beautiful town outside of Palermo that my mother's mother comes from. Now 241 across the street, the same thing was happening but mainly with people from Pulizi, which is also outside of Palermo but higher in the mountains. That's where my father's father comes from. So they were across the street and my mother said that when she met my father, there was a problem because they were different nationalities. She used the phrase "different nationalities," in reality it's just from different villages.
On The Neighborhood:
In our neighborhood, there were only Italian-Americans basically. There was one woman on Elizabeth Street in the butcher shop directly across from 241. She's still there, she's 90 years old, she's still cutting meat. It's Mary the Butcher. You should go there and interview her. She is tough spitting, been there 60 years. She's something, she was in my first movie, I put her in my first film, Mary the Butcher. My mother goes to shop there still, up until a couple of months ago, she used to go there. Also you knew with the meat, you knew the meat was fresh. You'd see the meat being ground properly into chopped meat. You were going to check out the vegetables. It was like a living organism in a way. It was like the actual village life -- I didn't realize it at the time, but it was like a village in Sicily. There was one place, Mr. Torminelli's, -- Mr. Torminelli's was a grocery store, small but I'll never forget, I would go and have lunch there, I would go and order a sandwich at lunchtime to bring it back to school. I will never forget the barrels filled with olives and the rind, the smell of that. And the extraordinary smells when you walked into that grocery store of the spiced ham and all the other cold cuts and that sort of thing, and the tuna fish salads that he made.
On His Grandmother's Window:
I will never forget that view from the window sill. Life had to go on, you know. We would look and we could see the other people directly across the street, directly in their windows, especially if it was summer. You could see what was going on, you would know if they were having a fight, you would hear what they were saying -- I mean, very often in the buildings, if there was a fight, a family fight, invariably other friends of the building would come in -- other people from other apartments, to try to calm people down because it could get very, very hysterical. I mean people just living on top of each other. But from that window you could see everything. I used to watch Mary the Butcher cutting the meat. In fact I opened WHO'S THAT KNOCKING? with that shot from my grandmother's window. We shot in her apartment. There was a little luncheonette right next door. I think her name was Mary too. She was really nice. And I would go in there after school and play the juke box in the early 50s -- Perry Como, the theme from ANNA, that Italian film by La Tuada, music like that.
I was saying as a joke the other day that I love film editing, I know how to cut a picture, I think I know how to shoot it, but I don't know how to light it. And I realize it's because I didn't grow up with light. I grew up in tenements. It doesn't make a tenement a bad word. It sounds like the slums and everything. But it was really a neighborhood. It was like a village. It was kind of a very strong life force. But at the same time the light was all artificial. So I didn't know. You know, I didn't know where the light would come from when I went to shoot films. And the films I usually wind up doing are urban films anyway. So the light usually is -- you turn the light on. That's the lighting for the picture. But the thing about it is that I was always aware of the streets at night. Looking out the widow or coming home at night. And in 1964, they changed to the halogen lamps. But there was something romantic about the streets at night before the halogen lamps, and haunting, almost at times a little melancholy, and at times exhilarating, very exhilarating.