Monday, November 07, 2005

Day 38: Who’s That Knocking at My Door?

It’s all there.  In Martin Scorsese’s debut feature, everything that would earn him great renown in the future is on display, rough-hewn, but still mesmerizing.  The impeccable use of music tracks, the camera tricks, the virgin/whore guilt inspired by rampant Catholicism, and the jocular, macho kidding around that leads to unexpected acts of violence: it’s all there.  I felt a similar sort-of joy watching Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and witnessing the birth of the Spaghetti Western.  But aside from the delight in watching the emergence of a world-class director, the movie itself is great.  It’s less sophisticated than later Scorsese, but no less entertaining for it and whatever lack of sophistication exists is easily redeemed by the movie’s artistic purity.

Who’s That Knocking at My Door focuses on yet another drifting, aimless young man.  J.R., in a similarly sublime debut from Harvey Keitel, has no job and spends most of his time hanging out with his two best friends.  When he begins dating a young woman (another case where the female lead is billed as Girl [and in both cases the anonymity of the name represents the worldview of the movie: Walkabout’s a political allegorical worldview and here a case where the girl represents all women to the main character]), things go well until she informs him of a time she was date raped.  This throws him into a panic since his shining virgin has now been sullied and he’s unclear as to whether or not he can “forgive her” (despite his own sexual proclivities).

The movie draws a viewer in with a hypnotic spell, due in large part to the way music tracks are used both to highlight emotion and play counter to them.  There’s a flashback to the date rape and the scene starts with a doo-wop song on the radio.  As things turn violent, parts of the music are looped over themselves, creating a jarring dissonance and an effective counter argument to 50s-era nostalgia.  Religious iconography is piously photographed, but scored with a cheery, uplifting song.  A montage of J.R. in bed with women looser than his girlfriend is set to the music of The Doors, climaxing with J.R. scattering a deck of cards over one of his paramours in slow motion.  All of this is beautifully photographed on location in New York City (and one brief jaunt to the country) and edited with a fine ear for the rhythms of dialogue and music by Scorsese regular Thelma Schoonmaker.

Bridging a gap (that I never knew existed) between Godard’s Breathless and Cassavettes’ Shadows, Who’s That Knocking at My Door borrows from both of these films and to good effect.  When a gun is fired, the movie cuts to a series of stills from posters of John Wayne movies accompanied by gunshot sound effects.  I was reminded of the obsession with film that guided the players in Godard’s tale, but felt its effect on the characters and the decisions they made in a less abstract way in this picture.  The use of locations is energizing here as it was in Shadows, but the city bleeds into every frame of Who’s Knocking, while Cassavettes’ film was more limited in scope.  There are a few moments in the film that stumble slightly, but overall, Who’s That Knocking at My Door is interesting as both a historical curio and a good film in its own right.


M. Gants v4.0 said...

I am upset, Blockbuster does not appear to offer Who's That Knocking at My Door? on its website...bah!

Anonymous said...

Blockbuster doesn't offer this film because Blockbuster is a horrible eveil monkey-tool of Satan himself. Come over to the Netflix side. It's nice and uncensored over here.

Ash Karreau said...

Or move to Canada. They have video stores not run by the Moral Majority.