Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who's That Knocking at My Door

Who's That Knocking is Martin Scorsese's first film, and it has a pretty weird production history which helps explain its disjointed nature. It stars Harvey Keitel as J.R., a simple criminal in New York. He helps run vague operations with his friends, whom he spends a lot of time just screwing around with. This part of the movie was filmed as a student project before Scorsese graduated. Then he came up with the idea for the story of a relationship where the man eventually learns an awful truth about the woman's past, and is unable to cope with it properly. He filmed this and slapped it together with the hanging-with-buddies stuff, and the two plot threads never meet. It was released at festivals as I Call First. Then he got a deal for distribution, on the condition that he had a big sex scene they could use to help sell it. He filmed the scene and added it in, the name was changed, and that's the movie I watched.

If it sounds like it would all add up to a slightly odd and befuddling film experience, it kind of does, although I still liked a lot of the individual scenes and a lot of the way it was all filmed. It has a lot of style that you don't really see from movies back then, with scenes at different points in time being intercut interestingly and some unique and creative choices for angles and stuff like that. It makes the whole story more engaging to watch, even if there's very little in the way of a continuous plot or true character development. The two stories aren't completely shut off from each other, because the scenes with Keitel and his friends hint at something that's bothering him, specifically involving a girl, and it ties the ideas together without them specifically referring to each other. And while the sex scene is definitely unnecessary, Scorsese still found a way to tie it back into an existing scene, and the way it was done, with some of the film's best cinematography and a sort of weird symbolic feel to it, makes it feel less totally superfluous.

And while it might have worked better on its own as a short film or expanded into something more, the stuff with Keitel and Zina Bethune is really pretty strong. Their relationship seems natural, both in how it blossoms into something meaningful and how it falls apart when Keitel reveals the massive flaws and insecurities in his personality. It could have easily been boring or hard to watch, but I mostly liked it, and as his first film, it's a decent showcase of Scorsese's ability to shoot scenes in new and intelligent ways. I only watched it because it was expiring from Netflix Instant, but I don't regret it at all.

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