Friday, January 20, 2012

Scorsese and Women; Guilt and Pleasure: Who's that Knocking

Machismo is definitely what Scorsese is linking back to most of the time;  Scorsese did direct Alice doesn't live here anymore (1974), a road-movie  that won Ellen Burstyn an Oscar, though. It's an ok melodrama, but nothing impressive. Mafia and gangsters, weirdos, defiant personalities and secret agents are definitely more impressive, especially if they have the Original Sin in the back of their  heads to give the story an unpleasant twist.

The original sin and guilt come hand in hand in Catholicism; and they are to blame for messing up many a believers' lives. Well-hidden guilt makes early Scorsese lose common sense in this semi-autobiographical film; women are either Virgin Marys (with a lot of tabasco) or sluts for his protagonists. Don't be shocked by the simplistic allure and the manichaeistic touch of the statement, these people, bullied by religion's prodigious didactic schemes from a very early age,  actually are trapped in and suffer from their beliefs. I know some of them. Judgemental people; women for them are divided in two groups: the ones you have fun with, use and amuse, and those you greatly respect, settle down with and have children; no middle way, no possibility of combination. As for the unlucky women mingling with such tortured souls, it's definitely them that suffer the most; respect is  a good thing, but what can you do with it? It cannot give you any orgasms, after all.

The girl -an ethereal Zina Bethune, her light hair covering her innocent face like a halo - is trapped in such a vicious circle. She bumped on J.R. while waiting for the ferry; he was running errands for his grandma and she was scanning through a French magazine. J.R. noticed her and John Wayne in the magazine's left page and he established eye contact, till she gave in to his inquisitive look and started conversation. Their lovingly bond was doomed, due to religious constraints. Holy candles, a porcelain Virgin Mary  surveying J.R.'s bedroom from the boudoir, crosses that he kisses and bleeds, confession scenes, Jesus'  raw-boned body after crucifixion and a tad too much of similar catholic iconography objects portray the young Italian-american's obsession. The moving scene of him drinking his inner pain away can hardly leave us space for condemn; strict catholic upbringing, twisted ideas on sin and pleasure one can overcome with years of psychotherapy or personal work on rational thought. It is the hardest thing of all, though.

Black and white texture, constant play with contrast and light, close-ups that cannot get any closer, jump cuts, dizzy camera movements; Who's that Knocking at my door (1967) is Scorsese's first feature film, and a beautiful one. He feels free to break cinematic rules, to deconstruct the narrative by occasional repetitive or non-academic editing and to play around in the most Nouvelle Vague majestic way. I equally saw some Cassavetes' Shadows (1959) in the film; it always feels like home to go back to the beginnings. The only annoying thing was the subtitles of the copy we watched in the Cinematheque. Light-green French subtitles. Yak. But in an old movie, you cannot have it all, I guess.

My favorite scene of the film was, apparently, added at a later time and was shot in Amsterdam, the obvious place, when it comes to prostitutes. Yes, there is an artistic scene featuring Keitel and prostitutes, mixed to SOME song.

Which reminds me, of the irresistible soundtrack: The End by The Doors (a girl I know wrote on it recently) and the title song Who's That Knocking? are just some of them.

Then, there's Harvey Keitel. He looked good in his youth; the camera loved him and treated him well. His acting is solid, maybe a bit raw, now that I'm thinking about it, but that's ok when you're young.

For those who are in Luxembourg: this is your lucky day, people! There is one more screening for Scorsese's debut, and, believe me, you don't wanna miss it; you will be thankful afterwards.

AGENDA: Who's that Knocking at my Door by Martin Scorsese, together with three of his early shorts @ Cinematheque -Luxembourg, Monday 23/1/12, 18.30. More info & Screening Program on their WebSite.

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