Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Who’s That Knocking at My Door?

(J.R., 1967)

Somebody’s been going to film school and watching a lot of French Nouvelle Vague movies. Not that this is a bad thing, not at all, but if Martin Scorsese’s name were not on it, it would be easy to mistake this for Godard, Truffaut, or Resnais.

It has a tangled history. It is usually named as Scorsese’s first film (originally titled I Call First), but that doesn’t count three shorts he made while a student at the Tisch School of the Arts. It was assembled from material he shot while in school, with other elements added later and stitched together. In fact, an extended dream sequence with full frontal nudity was shot much later, in Amsterdam, for some reason, to satisfy a distributor who needed a sexy angle to sell the picture. Since the story is non-linear anyway, with lots of visual digressions, none of that really hurts the film.

What hurts it, to me, is the douchebag lay-about goombahs who feature in it. I know this is realism, and Scorsese is renowned for that, but sometimes it engages me, and sometimes it doesn’t. A very young Harvey Keitel in his first screen role is J.R., who encounters a woman much too good for his worthless ass on the Staten Island ferry. They fall in love … or as much in love as J.R. is capable of. When she opens up to him that she was raped, he rejects her. (Why did she tell him? Because clearly he, a man who cavorts with whores, demands his bride be a virgin. He will expect blood on the sheets. Scorsese’s famous Catholic guilt.) When he returns and asks her to take him back, she is willing, until he says he can “forgive” her. She has sense enough to realize that the rape will always be between them, and shows him the door. Good for her.

It’s very well done, it looks terrific. Scorsese had both 35mm and 16mm cameras and some fine lenses, very good equipment, and was able to do extreme close-ups and slow motion, and he does it to good effect. He has a cameo in a party scene, but I missed him. Many people will really love this film, no question. It just didn’t delight me.