Mean Streets gets all the love as Scorsese’s first proper movie. Sure, it sets up a lot of the themes and film making flourishes that would go on to be the traits most associated with his career, but before Mean Streets, there was a pretty fun and better than it had any right to be exploitation picture, Boxcar Bertha. And before Boxcar Bertha was Scorsese’s true debut as a feature film maker, Who’s That Knocking at My Door.
This is by far the most experimental, artsy movie by Scorsese, with a very loose narrative strung together by a series of stand alone scenes and vignettes. It also has a drawn out feel that could put down to either a young film maker indulging in all their worst art house pretentions, or a young film maker desperate to get their short film to feature length and using as much slow motion and as many musical montages as possible to get there. And some of the rambling conversations make me think Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarrentino might all be fans of Who’s That Knocking at My Door too.
None of that is say that I didn’t like Who’s That Knocking at My Door, because I really did. But watching it 45 years later, with the hindsight of his amazing career since then, it’s hard not to look past Scorsese’s rough edges in places. But for every rough edge he thankfully lost in later years, you see several that have gone on to become some of his greatest, most defining traits as a director.
A great soundtrack of current (at the time) pop songs, a kind of street language and street life that just seems so much more real than other movies, an obsession with the minutiae of his character’s life where even the most mundane activity somehow becomes fascinating. You can see it all there, Scorsese just hadn’t quite figured out how to best present it yet.
The same can be said for Keitel’s performance. A little awkward and stagey at times, you can still see the potential for him to become the amazing actor he would be just a few years later. I know every one misses the days of Scorsese teaming up with Robert DeNiro, but when I think about this and Mean Streets and Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ, I miss the days of Scorsese teaming up with Keitel. They really did some amazing work together.
At first I started watching Who’s That Knocking at My Door as a bit of a curiosity. A student film level collection of student film level conceits from the man who would go on to be possibly the greatest film maker of all time. But as it went on, I did find myself really getting into the characters and the world.