Thursday, January 2, 2014

Revisiting Scorsese: Who's That Knocking at My Door?

Originally posted on Letterboxd

Scorsese's first feature begins with a shot of a Catholic mother making food for her family. The image dissolves at the sight of a virgin Mary statue and cuts to a group of young men standing around talking. Pop music begins playing over the image and the men are compelled to beat up other men. It's almost humorous how perfectly Scorsese would capture nearly every last theme he'd play around with for his entire career in the first two scenes of Who's That Knocking at my Door?. It's a testament to his talents as a filmmaker that he came right out of the gate knowing exactly what he wanted to say, but then Scorsese has always been an almost autobiographical filmmaker. You get the sense that Scorsese knew these people when he was growing up and both admired and feared their actions. Throughout his entire career Scorsese would romanticize violence through the usage of music only to show the horrors and repercussions of these actions later. It was a lifestyle that he never ventured into, but one he understood, because in a way he lived it. The Catholicism present here is also looming over every scene. When R.J. and the girl kiss you can see crosses in the background. When they approach the idea of sex it's shot down when pangs of guilt overcome our protagonist. Then there is the flurry of catholic imagery that closes the film cementing RJ's solace in god despite damning his relationship with the girl due to archaic ideas of purity and virginity.

The other thing that I find extremely interesting here is how Scorsese treats men and women. It's the 1960s and second wave feminism is only just starting to gain any kind of traction so the climate at this time is still very much difficult for women. The idea of women's liberation has only just started so for Scorsese to make a film that is partially about the problems women had to endure during this time when it comes to rape is something admirable. Scorsese certainly places the narrative in the hands of RJ but he gives the girl in this film the space to push back when need be and reject RJ when he blames her for her own rape. The rape scene itself is shot differently than the rest of the picture. It's much more brutal, disorienting and the music is doubled over to create a horrific effect. This is a picture where the girl and the guy don't end up together and it's ultimately the woman's choice to end the relationship, because of RJ's horrible behaviour. She's hurting, but she doesn't end up saddled with RJ and that is progressive. In regards to RJ's presence in the picture he sets up the kind of archetypical character Scorsese would create for years to come in pictures like Mean Streets, Raging Bull and Goodfellas. RJ is a gangster troubled by catholic guilt. He was very set ideas about what's right and wrong, and how men and women should act and it's ultimately his undoing. He still has his boys and his god, but he lost his girl which makes this film a little different from some of Scorsese's other films.
 What might be Scorsese's greatest talent as a director is knowing how to use music to play a scene and it's amazing to see that he's always been perfect at this. In RJ's fantasy scene he perfectly used The End by The Doors and in the already mentioned rape scene he took Don't Ask Me to Be Lonely and doubled it to muffle her screams in a scene that is truly horrific. These two scenes play completely differently and showcase the different ideas these two characters have about sex. For RJ it's a type of ritualistic fantasy and a rite of passage and for the girl it's something to be afraid of and something that has been taken from her that she can't get back. It's something that I never even noticed when watching this film when I was 13 years old, and revisiting it nine years later revealed an almost completely different film than the one I remembered. The one constant between myself at 13 and 22 is that I still find this to be a really interesting debut showing the kinds of things Scorsese would perfect years down the road and the things he's still trying to understand.

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