Dec 17, 2015

Who's That Knocking at My Door

With the unexpected huge commercial success and critical prestige of counterculture flicks like Bonnie and Clyde (1967) directed by Arthur Penn and Easy Rider (1969) directed by Dennis Hopper, a fairly unexpected artistic renaissance began in Tinseltown that would eventually be dubbed ‘New Hollywood’ (aka ‘American New Wave) where the ‘auteur’ (as opposed to the producer or studio head) was respected and given real artistic freedom for the first time in mainstream American cinema history. Indeed, even George Lucas—a man that has probably done more than anyone else to retard and infantilize cinema—originally stylized himself as an experimental auteur and celluloid poet who was proudly influenced by American avant-garde filmmakers like Jordan Belson, Stan Brakhage and Bruce Conner as well as European arthouse filmmakers like Federico Fellini and Jean-Luc Godard, which is evident in his early and rarely-seen ‘pure cinema’ shorts like Look at Life (1965), Herbie (1966), 1:42.08 (1966), The Emperor (1967), and Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town (1967). Of course, not unlike many filmmakers of his generation, Lucas decided to give up on any artistic pretenses that he previously had after the abject critical and commercial of his debut feature THX 1138 (1971). Additionally, while he originally intended to establish himself as a highly personal auteur, Francis Ford Coppola ironically became famous after directing The Godfather (1972), which is a film that he initially refused to direct and would ultimately prove to be a mixed blessing for the filmmaker, who never actually became the great European style ‘artiste’ he dreamed of being (notably, when Coppola was at the height of his megalomania while working on post-production for Apocalypse Now (1979), he temporarily decided he wanted to be a sort of American Syberberg and declared that he planned to direct a ten-hour 3-D adaptation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's third novel Die Wahlverwandtschafte (1809) aka Elective Affinities). Whereas some of the filmmakers of New Hollywood never had any sort of success like Henry Jaglom and others simply burned out after a series of cataclysmic commercial failures like Peter Bogdanovich and William Friedkin, a handful of filmmakers actually managed to survive, especially Martin Scorsese, though his perseverance ultimately came at the decided detriment of his art. While Scorsese's most recent feature The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) makes him seem like not much more than a sort of morally bankrupt celluloid DJ who simply constructs degenerate pseudo-Dionysian montages to go along with terribly played-out pop songs that have been featured in dozens (if not hundreds) of other films, there was actually a time when he hoped to be an American equivalent to Roberto Rossellini (after all, it is no coincidence that he married the maestro's daughter Isabella Rossellini). 

Undoubtedly, out of all of his films, Scorsese's somewhat forgotten debut feature Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967) is unequivocally the much beloved filmmaker’s most innately personal, experimental, and artsy fartsy work to date, even if it is a sort of warm-up for his somewhat superior work Mean Streets (1973). In fact, when proto-indie auteur John Cassavetes, who later became a sort of mentor and father figure to Scorsese, saw the film, he was so impressed that he stated, “This movie is as good as CITIZEN KANE. No, it’s better than CITIZEN KANE, it’s got more heart.” Additionally, Roger Ebert was so deeply affected upon seeing the film at the 1967 Chicago International Film Festival that he penned a rave review where he stated that it was, “a work that is absolutely genuine, artistically satisfying and technically comparable to the best films being made anywhere. I have no reservations in describing it as a great moment in American movies.” Originally intended as Scorsese’s graduate film at NYU (in fact, the director’s Armenian-American professor Haig Manoogian co-produced it) and the second part of a projected trilogy about growing up in Little Italy (the third part, which was originally titled Season of the Witch, would later evolve into Mean Streets), Who's That Knocking at My Door had various names and lengths before becoming the film it is today, including a 65-minute cut entitled Bring on the Dancing Girls, which was poorly received on its debut. Ultimately, Scorsese managed to save the film by adding a romantic subplot featuring Zina Bethune, as well as an erotic dream-sequence the was shot in Amsterdam (Scorsese would also contribute dialogue to Wim Verstappen's script for Surinamese-Dutch-Jewish filmmaker Pim de la Parra’s Dutch-German pseudo-Hitchcockian homage to Republic Pictures, Obsessions (1969) aka Bezeten, Het Gat in de Muur aka Besessen - Das Loch in der Wand).  Somewhat ironically, Scorsese only shot the amorous dream-sequence because sexploitation producer Joseph Brenner offered to buy and distribute Who's That Knocking at My Door if he added the smutty scene, which ultimately proved to be one of the most artful and memorable aspects of the entire film.

Proudly described  by Scorsese himself in Scorsese on Scorsese (2003) as, “…the first film to show what Italian-Americans really were like and that was what was good about it,” Who's That Knocking at My Door might be best described as the filmmaker's cruder and all the grittier equivalent to Federico Fellini’s I Vitelloni (1953) as a film that features a fairly sentimental yet less than flattering depiction of a group of young urban guidos from Little Italy that seem to live in a state of perpetual childhood and have yet to start families or serious careers. Indeed, comparing both films, one might assume that the Italians of the mother country are doing slightly better than their somewhat deracinated American counterparts, but I digress. A somewhat dated work in our peak degenerate Jersey Shore age in the sense that the young wops depicted in the film are so still cuckolded enough by Catholicism that they are actually afraid to have sex before marriage, Scorsese’s film truly feels like an important historical artifact nowadays as it depicts a forgotten bygone era before every young NYC goombah was a pill-popping aspiring rapper. The somewhat somber, bittersweet, and pathetic yet strangely heartfelt tale of a truly ignorant and proudly boorish unemployed young Sicilian-American who falls for a nameless college-educated blonde WASP of the considerably more cultivated sort and must inevitably confront the fact that Catholicism has turned him into a sort of sexual and social autistic of sorts upon losing his Aryan lady love after he treats her like a piece of despoiled trash when she puts her heart on the line and confesses to him that she was once raped, Who's That Knocking at My Door ultimately tells a simple story in a raw and energetic yet elegant fashion that would later come to epitomize the director's greatest works.

To give the film a sort of true Little Italy vibe that highlights the sort of tradition oriented closed community that the protagonist and his comrades come from, Who's That Knocking at My Door begins with a sentimental quasi-neorealist scene featuring a fat grey-haired guido grandmother making and baking a Stromboli (or possibly a calzone) and then serving it to her five grandchildren, with one of the children assumedly being the male lead. After this fairly wholesome scene and a brief title sequence, Scorsese abruptly slaps the viewer across the face with a violent fight scene where two rival guido gangs beat the shit out of each other with clubs for seemingly no reason like brain-dead barbarians who need a therapeutic outlet for their instinctual desire to rape and pillage. Hilariously, a guido sporting a white headband kisses a large crucifix he is wearing around his neck before the fight, only to get his ass immediately beat with a club to the face, thus revealing that Jesus does not answer everyone's prayers. Luckily for protagonist J.R. (Harvey Keitel), his little gang wins the brawl and he celebrates by playfully hitting his best friend Joey (Lennard Kuras), who is a somewhat annoying little twat that incessantly talks out of his ass but is clearly the more domineering of the two in the friendship. Indeed, as demonstrated by the fact that he smacks that shit of his philistine friend Sally Gaga (Michael Scala)—a fellow that is so hopelessly sleazy that he steals $40.00 out of his girlfriend's purse while making out with her—after catching him gambling at their local bar with cash that he stole from him, Joey is the dictator of the group, at least in his own mind. A somewhat more stoic fellow, J.R. seems to ignore a lot of Joey’s moronic behavior because he seems completely oblivious to how stupid and crude his friend is acting. While the guys like playing practical jokes on one another like aiming loaded weapons at each other while drunk, there is not much pointless drama that goes on in the group aside from a scene where Joey temporarily throws J.R. out of his car after the get in a pointless argument. Of course, J.R.’s animosity towards Joey was largely inspired by an outside source. Indeed, virtually all of the drama depicted in Who's That Knocking at My Door takes place in the film’s somewhat crudely constructed romantic subplot, which depicts the absurdity that ensues when a terribly naïve and seemingly virginal Catholic momma’s boy from a closed community begins a somewhat unlikely hot and heavy romance with an Anglo-Saxon beauty of the fairly cultivated and literate sort.

While waiting at a ferry station and looking all moody and broody, gentleman J.R. becomes absolutely enamored with the fact that a publicity shot of John Wayne from John Ford’s classic Western The Searchers (1956) is featured in a French magazine that a young blonde ‘Girl’ (Zina Bethune) that is sitting beside him is reading. Since J.R. keeps looking at her magazine in a somewhat obnoxious fashion, the Girl decides to break the tension and asks him if he wants to look at it, but he says no and then awkwardly remarks, “Yeah, but that isn’t an American magazine. . .and it just seemed funny to me. You know what I mean?” Of course, the Girl, who seems like the sort of upper-class gal that would have attended some fancy prep school, has no clue what J.R. means, but she seems somewhat entranced by the shy young Sicilian and his strange ways, as if he is a potential forbidden pleasure for her. From there, J.R. goes on a pointless spiel about how great The Searchers is and when the Girl remarks, “Well, I’m not used to admitting I like Westerns,” he replies in a playful pseudo-offended manner, “Oh, yeah, Why not, huh? Everybody should like Westerns. Solve everybody’s problems if they liked Westerns.” At this point, the Girl laughs in a flirtatious fashion and remarks, “Okay, I like Westerns!,” thus demonstrating that she is interested enough in J.R. to listen to and agree with his truly childish discussions about Westerns. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to the Girl, J.R. is so badly brainwashed by his spiritually castrating Catholic upbringing that he will not share carnal knowledge with her, let alone be able to handle the fact that she was once violently raped.  Indeed, in J.R.'s eyes, it does not matter if a girl was physically forced to have sex by a violent rapist, as she has already been fucked and thus is not respectable marriage material.

As J.R. explains to the Girl after a screening of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) regarding the difference between ‘girls’ and ‘broads,’ “You know what a – a broad isn’t exactly a virgin, you know what I mean? You play around with them, you don’t… You don’t marry a broad.” Indeed, according to J.R., Angie Dickinson’s character in Rio Bravo is a ‘broad,’ as she is as loose as a goose and thus too irrevocably despoiled to be any self-respecting man's spouse. Of course, the Girl seems somewhat offended by what J.R. says and she even asks him if he is serious, but she, like many young women that are just starting a new relationship with a man that they are infatuated with, attempts to shrug it off just like she shrugs off most of the moronic things he says. Needless to say, when the Girl reveals to him her big secret about being traumatically sexually ravaged, J.R. will also begin thinking of her as a ‘broad,’ even if he does not want to, as it is an impulsive reaction to his strict religious upbringing. When the two make-out with one another and things get a little bit too heated, J.R. practically acts like a petrified middle schoolboy and stops before either of them even has the chance to take their shirt off. Additionally, J.R. acts exceedingly anally retentive about his mother’s Catholic religious decorations. Indeed, when the Girl admires a statue of the Mother Mary while they are kissing, J.R. freaks out and yells, “Don’t touch it. Anything happens to that, my mother will pass out.”  Of course, J.R.'s remark reveals that he has serious Oedipal issues and that probably no woman could ever live up to his mother, especially not some blonde Protestant chick who does not know how to cook decent pasta. When J.R. abruptly aborts one of their make-out sessions while the two are on the verge of engaging in steamy session of the four-legged frolic, he tries in vain to articulate to the Girl why he will not go all the way and fuck her like a man and while stumbling on his words he less than eloquently states, “Listen, I. . .I love you. I love you, but […] Well, now I feel…I feel silly saying this. What I mean is…If you love me, you’ll understand what I mean. Just not now.”  While the Girl caters to J.R. glaring sensitives, she cannot seem to figure out what is wrong with him, especially since he has a sort of pseudo-stoic tough guy attitude where he attempts to hide and ignore any of vulnerabilities.  Naturally, when the Girl reveals her big secret, J.R. has more than a little bit of trouble masking his irrational rage.

While his fairly mundane aborted make-out sessions with the Girl make him seem like an evasive eunuch who is trying to hide the fact that his cock does not work, J.R.’s personal dreams reveal that his true sexual instincts are much more primal and fetishistic. Indeed, in an extended erotic dream-sequence juxtaposed with the classic psychedelic rock song “The End” by The Doors, J.R. finds himself naked and tied to a bed in an ethereal S&M scene where it is quite obvious that actor Harvey Keitel has aged somewhat since the other parts of the film were shot. During these scenes, J.R. encounters no less than three different prostitutes with varying tit sizes, with one of them fittingly being portrayed by stunning frog beauty Anne Collette, who is probably best known for starring in Godard’s pre-Breathless shorts Charlotte et Véronique, ou Tous les garçons s'appellent Patrick (1959) aka All the Boys Are Called Patrick and Charlotte et son Jules (1960) aka Charlotte and Her Boyfriend. Rather revealingly, during the dream-sequence, the viewer is exposed to Jim Morrison’s overtly Oedipal spoken word lyrics, “The killer awoke before dawn…He put his boots on…He took a face from the ancient gallery…And he walked on down the hall…He went to the room where his sister lived…And then he paid a visit to his brother…And then he walked on down the hall…And he came to a door…And he looked inside…’Father’…’Yes, son?’…’I want to kill you’…’Mother I want to…’,” thus underscoring J.R.’s pathological obsession with both his mother and Jesus' mommy. Undoubtedly, it becomes apparent to the viewer while watching this debauched yet surprisingly aesthetically delicious dream-sequence that the protagonist is a masochist of sorts who, despite his worship of macho Western figures like John Wayne, gets off to being in a submissive position with women. In that sense, it is no surprise that his relationship with the Girl fails because she is far too passive and restrained to make an adequate lover for the protagonist. Indeed, what J.R. seems to need is the stereotypical incessant nagging guidette with jet-black hair who beats him over head with a broom if he gets too out of line.

If any segment of the film truly reveals how sheltered J.R. and his friends are from the world as a whole as individuals that live in a closed urban community, it is when they take a road trip to the rural area of Copake, New York and find themselves totally out of their element, especially Joey, who bitches the entire time like a prissy preteen with PMS. While Hollywood tells us that it is small town rural folk and rednecks who are close-minded bigots that hate anyone that is not like them, in Scorsese’s film it is the NYC wops that do all the shit-talking, as they see the rural WASPs as dumb hicks, even though they somewhat resemble the sort of cowboys in John Ford flicks that the protagonist and his friends admire. Of course, to J.R. and his pals' credit, the Copake locals are fairly petty, with a couple of them getting in a petty drunken argument about the pronunciation of the town’s name, stating it’s “Not Copake, but Copiague” (as someone that grew up in a rural area, I can attest that it is not uncommon from small town yokels to get offended if outsiders do not pronoun the name of their town in the same idiosyncratic fashion). After hanging out at the bar, the boys climb up a small mountain, though Joey complains the entire way and almost gives up as he seems afraid of treading through leaves and sticks, as if it is too much of a culture shock for him to walk on anything aside from flat NYC asphalt. When they finally reach the top of the mountain, J.R. admires the scenic view while Joey bitches to himself, “Three, four hours I spend climbing a mountain. For what? To come up here. So, what’s up here? Big deal. I don’t understand.”

While J.R. and the Girl seem genuinely in love with one another in a sort of hopelessly infatuated naive high school kid sort of way, the protagonist cannot help berate his girlfriend for the most petty of reasons to the point where he acts like she is a retarded child, even though she is is clearly much smarter and more articulate than he is. Indeed, when the Girl attempts to be kind and thoughtful by lighting a candle and putting it on his kitchen table, J.R. immediately complains that she is not supposed to put a “holy candle” on a kitchen table. After the holy candle incident, the Girl drops a bomb on J.R. by stating, “I have to tell you something […] I love you, and I do want it to last” and then reveals a traumatic life-changing incident from a couple years ago when she was driven to a quiet country road during night by a seemingly nice male suitor and violently raped when she refused to put out. While the Girl merely want J.R.'s sympathy and acceptance and confesses in a somewhat embarrassed fashion, “I felt dirty. I felt I wasn’t as good as anyone else. I felt ashamed. I couldn’t even talk. I didn’t talk. I love you. And I don’t wanna lose you. With you it’ll be the first time,” the protagonist is only angered and more or less blames her for what happened, stating to her in a somewhat hostile fashion, “How could I believe you? Well, how could I believe you? How can I believe that story? It just doesn’t make any sense.” In fact, at one point, J.R. yells at the girl “Look at me” and then interrogates her in an invasive fashion by stating, “you go out with a guy and don’t even know what he’s like? You let him take you out on some goddamn road and you don’t mind it. It just… It doesn’t… It just doesn’t seem real, does it? It just doesn’t make any sense.” Naturally quite upset that her lover would dare to question the authenticity of what is probably the most traumatic experience of her entire life, the Girl eventually cries “It’s true!” and then storms out of J.R.’s apartment after he continues to hostilely question her.

After spending a night getting drunk with friends and savagely teasing two fairly unintelligent Jewesses that Sally Gaga brings by (among other things, the boys scare the Hebrewesses by putting fish in their drinks), J.R. still cannot get over his bitter last meeting with the Girl and thus decides to pay her an unexpected early morning visit at her apartment. Like the almost completely unconsciously self-absorbed man-child that he is, J.R. obnoxiously bangs on the Girl’s front-door for an extended period of time until she eventually responds and when she asks “Who is it?,” he hilariously replies like a dump wop “It’s me” instead of saying his name, hence the title of the film (which is also a reference to the song “Who's That Knocking?” by the Genies, which is played near the end of the flick). Despite J.R.’s rather rude early morning knocking, the Girl is quite thrilled to see him. While J.R. has come to apologize to the Girl for how harshly he treated her after she revealed to him her rape story, it is ultimately not an apology that any self-respecting person would accept. Indeed, after making a generic general apology while the two are making out, J.R. states to the girl “I understand now, and I forgive you,” as if it is her fault that she got raped. At this point, the Girl gets noticeably annoyed and asks, “Forgive me?,” to which unwitting moron J.R. replies, “Yes. I forgive you, and I’m gonna marry you anyway,” as if he is a particularly prized piece of man meat that is doing her a big favor. When the Girl asks if her rape story bothers him, J.R. replies in a somewhat angry fashion, “Well, yeah, it bothers me, damn it. But I love you, and I’ll marry you anyway,” so she responds, “No, I can’t. I mean, I won’t marry you on that basis.” Of course, J.R. is so hopelessly deluded by his Catholic upbringing that he actually believes he is doing the Girl a favor by offering to marry her even though she is ostensibly damaged goods.  While the only the the Girl wants from him is his sympathy, J.R. just cannot seem to figure this out. Totally incapable of wrapping his head around the fact that someone as supposedly despoiled and unholy as the Girl would refuse to marry him, J.R. goes berserk and proceeds to make all sorts of absurd accusations, stating to her while she is clearly upset and turned in the opposite direction, “Who do you think you are, the Virgin Mary or something? Leading me on like that, letting me in here this hour of the morning. Leading me on like that, letting me in here this hour of the morning. Come off it, will you? What kind of broad does that make you? And tell me something else. Who else is gonna marry you? Tell me that, you whore. Because that’s what you are, if you don’t know it by now, you whore.” While J.R. eventually becomes aware of how harsh and irrational he is acting and apologizes, the damage has already been done and the naturally Girl asks him to leave.

After J.R.’s failed final meeting with the Girl, the film segues into an unforgettable montage that features the protagonist walking into a Catholic confessional booth intercut with shots of the Girl's rape, statues of Christ on the cross and the Virgin Mary, and excerpts from the amorous dream-sequence in an intricately edited segment that pretty much sum up most of the central themes of the film.  At one point in the montage, J.R. sensually kisses a crucifix in what is a somewhat unsettling shot that really highlights how Catholicism has warped the character's sexuality. Undoubtedly, the eloquently shots of the Catholic Church and iconography recall the films of Spanish documentary auteur José Val del Omar, especially his trilogy Tríptico Elemental de España (1953-1960) aka Elementary Tryptich of Spain. Notably, the very final shot of the film is a night scene where J.R. states to his best bud Joey, “OK, I’ll talk to you tomorrow” and then the two head their separate ways to go home to sleep in preparation another mundane day of stupid nothingness upon stupid nothingness, thereupon underscoring the sterility and stagnation of their decidedly dead-end lives as uneducated and unemployed young goombah bums that have no chance of making it in the real world.  Certainly, had Scorsese not become a filmmaker, there is probably a good chance that he would have turned out a lot like J.R. and his friends.

While Who's That Knocking at My Door was obviously influenced by a number of European arthouse filmmakers that were popular at the time it was made like Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, and Pier Paolo Pasolini, its imperative American influences cannot be ignored. Indeed, aside from Scorsese’s acknowledged influence from Kenneth Anger (who influenced his now signature use of pop music) and John Cassavetes (who arguably had a greater influence on him than any other filmmaker, at least during his early pre-fame years), the film seems to have been influenced by somewhat more obscure avant-gardists like John E. Schmitz and Gregory J. Markopoulos, especially in regard to the auteurs' somewhat ritualistic and even metaphysical approach to repressed sexuality. Schmitz, who was a buddy of Anger, is probably best known for his phantasmagoric black-and-white short The Voices (1953), which, not unlike Who's That Knocking at My Door, is almost homoerotic in its depiction of a rather repressed and frustrated young man that is both literally and figuratively haunted by chicks and crucifixes, among other things. In its depiction of an ‘ethnic’ momma’s boy whose sexuality almost seems completely cursed by his mother’s influence, as well as heavy use of fragmented editing, Scorsese’s debut feature has much in common with Markopoulos' films, especially works like Christmas U.S.A. (1949) and Twice a Man (1964). Of course, despite his cultivated cinematic influences, it is even apparent in his first feature that Scorsese still wants to entertain the sort of crude crouch-grabbing lumpenproles that he grew up with, hence why the film opens up with a nice and trashy brawl. Indeed, as Scorsese once said in the book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (1998) by Peter Biskind in regard to his target viewers, “After NEW YORK, NEW YORK, I thought, I’ll never have the audience of Spielberg, not even of Francis [Ford Coppola]. My audience is the guys I grew up around, wiseguys, guys from Queens, truck drivers, guys loading furniture. If they think it’s good, I’m fine. Maybe I’m crazy.”  Unfortunately, it seems Scorsese's most recent films appeal to drunken frat-boys and zany Zionist psychopaths.

Rather unfortunately, as most of his post-The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) films demonstrates, Scorsese has unfortunately totally given up on being any sort of serious auteur with a strong personal vision. Indeed, as Scorsese also stated in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls in regard to his decision to reinvent himself during the late-1980s after the commercial failure of some of his best works, including Raging Bull (1980) and The King of Comedy (1982), “I had to make up my mind whether I really wanted to continue making films. There was such negativity that you might as well stop. So what do you do? Stay down dead? No. I realized then, you can’t let the system crush your spirit. I really did want to continue making pictures […] I’m going to try to be a pro and start all over again.”  Notably, Scorsese's mentor Cassavetes attempted to warn him early in his career to never degrade himself and accept hack work (indeed, when he made the Bonnie and Clyde rip-off Boxcar Bertha (1972) for Roger Corman, Cassavetes apparently stated to him, “Nice work, but don't fucking ever do something like this again.  Why don't you make a movie about something you really care about.”), but unfortunately he did not listen to this advice and instead traded in his artistic integrity for the shallow American dream of fame and fortune.  Of course, Scorsese would go on to make tons of money, but he would also besmirch his legacy by directing pointless remakes (e.g. Cape Fear (1991)) and fairly lame sequels to classic Hollywood films (e.g. The Color of Money (1986)). With bombastic CGI-ridden big budget Leonardo DiCaprio vehicles like Shutter Island (2010), which makes absurd references to Dachau concentration camp, and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), which glorifies a real-life psychopathic kosher conman, Scorsese would also reveal that he is an unequivocal Shabbos goy, which of course is mandatory if you plan to be successful in Hollywood as indicated by the fall of Mel Gibson. Of course, then again, Scorsese’s arguable magnum opus, Taxi Driver (1976), was penned by Paul Schrader, thus hinting that he was always more of a talented craftsman than a distinctive auteur. In fact, it could be argued that most of the great filmmakers of New Hollywood, including Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, William Friedkin, Bob Rafelson, and Hal Ashby, were not true auteurs because they did not write their own original material and instead mainly adapted other people’s novels. As Biskind wrote, “The ugly truth is that some directors never had much to say in the first place. Their own self-estimation to the contrary, most of them were not auteurs, not in the sense that Woody Allen is an auteur. Few directed movies from their own scripts; they were hostage to the material they were given. Says Coppola, ‘Even the great directors are not all great screenwriters. Scorsese is not the kind of guy who’s going to sit in a room alone and just write about something. He needs that perfect book.’” While it is just mere speculation on my part, I am going to have to assume that Scorsese already said all he had to say with Who's That Knocking at My Door and Mean Streets, as there are only so many personal stories you can tell if you're a sickly film nerd that grew up hanging around philistine low-lifes in Little Italy.

While probably nowhere near his greatest film, Who's That Knocking at My Door is more intriguing to me than most of Scorsese’s movies because there is an undeniable visceral authenticity to it that is just plain nonexistent in his later works.  Indeed, while The Age of Innocence (1993), Kundun (1997), and Gangs of New York (2002) might be quite different in terms of genre and setting, they are all star-driven works that seem like they could have been directed by virtually any highly technically proficient Hollywood Golden Age studio hack. In other words, I think one could learn more about Scorsese the man by watching one of his early shorts like It's Not Just You, Murray! (1964) and The Big Shave (1967) or his somewhat obscure documentaries like Italianamerican (1974) and American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince (1978) than by watching all the films that he has directed in over the past twenty-five years combined. Of course, most great European auteur filmmakers like Bergman, Pasolini, Fellini, Fassbinder, and Antonioni directed personal auteur films until they dropped dead, thus underscoring the difference between America and Europa when it comes to cinema and culture in general. While I might not be too fond of much of his work, I can at least respect Godard for never giving up in terms of staying so dedicated to making highly personal auteur films that hardly anyone cares about any of the films that he has made over the past couple decades because he has completely alienated most audiences due to the increasingly arcane Verfremdungseffekt-oriented nature of his work. On the other hand, Scorsese has never pretended to be anything that he isn’t and I think he eventually came to the realization that he had more in common with a fellow American like John Ford than one of his European cinematic heroes like Fellini and Rossellini, as a filmmaker that just loves directing films, even if they are not too personal. As Who's That Knocking at My Door reveals in a fairly blatant fashion, Ford has always been one of Scorsese’s greatest cinematic heroes and that is just one of the many reasons why the film is a crucial work in the filmmaker’s somewhat uneven oeuvre. If Scorsese's film has any historical value, it is immortalizing NYC's Little Italy before it got taken over by various forms of mystery meat from the third world. Somewhat symbolically, one of film's actors, Michael Scala, had a son that went on to become a rapper named ‘Pizan,’ thus reflecting the abject cultural degeneration of Italian-Americans, who now pathetically imitate the very people they used to collectively hate (indeed, as Scorsese's longtime buddy/collaborator Robert De Niro's directorial debut A Bronx Tale (1993) reveals, guidos used to have no love for the ‘Moulinyan’). Made at a time when many Catholic girls would only let guys fuck them in the ass because they felt it was a reasonable means of hanging onto their virginity, Who's That Knocking at My Door is also an insightful psycho-dramatic remainder about how Catholicism perpetuates sexual psychosis.  Indeed, as someone that once started a relationship with a 21-year-old Catholic virgin who ultimately demonstrated that she had more pussy prowess than many women with a decade of carnal experience under their belt, I firmly believe that, at least in some cases, Catholicism can act as a sort of perpetual aphrodisiac.

-Ty E


teddy crescendo said...

Merry Christmas Ty E, have a great time my old mate.

Tony Brubaker said...

I of course totally respect Harvey Keitels rampaging heterosexuality (always a marvellously redeeming quality obviously) but in every other way that bloke is a bloody load of old rubbish.