Martin Scorsese comes knocking with a BFI re-release of what is perhaps his most personal and autobiographical film. Shot for pennies over the duration of four years (1964-68), the film stars Harvey Keitel as a Marty alter-ego college dropout who falls terribly in love with a middle-class blonde girl, played by Zina Bethune. Keitel’s character is confused by his feelings and spends the entire picture in turmoil over his ethnic and Catholic background versus the liberation involved in riding up to Greenwich village and making-love in a bedroom instead of mating meaninglessly with “broads” on the streets.
In part, the film acts as a prequel to Mean Streets, where Scorsese would again realise his incipient vision of a protagonist brought together by two opposing forces of sainthood and recklessness. It is the image of a man whose core values are pure, but who relies on audacious behaviours to get from A to B. And thematically, there is no hiding from the fact that Scorsese’s young male protagonists from the 60s and 70s are rooted in chauvinism and psychosexual tension; rape is viewed as a male crisis etc. The main storyline in Who’s That Knocking At My Door surprisingly has nothing to do with a crime narrative, it is simply about man’s dilemma as to whether or not a woman can love him who is no longer a virgin, as she is therefore able to sleep with any man she pleases, but here it is the case of a woman who has also been raped, an additional dilemma for the character.
It is shot in the landmark locations of Little Italy and tiny local clubs where unemployed youths play poker and act out on the fringes of society. Every scene bleeds with the vision of a filmmaker learning his craft and exploring inventive camera-work and blocking. The scene where Keitel meets the girl is spectacularly shot with a single camera turning a two-shot dialogue sequence into an entirely spherical playing field. The dialogue is also on fire – it feels improvised and yet is actually carefully scripted and the shots even storyboarded (as per Scorsese’s commentary). No doubt, the film has many imperfections, but with Scorsese, stylistic error manages to equate with innovation and poetry. A lack of professionalism does not mean the film lacks orchestration in mind of a cohesive whole. The hallmarks of the great auteur are there, in detail and in subject matter. His talent is fledging. It is definitely a debut “picture” worth revisiting.
What is it that enables the human being to cry? Beauty? Love? Poison? It is often an emotional response to another human being who has either shown us great love or great upset and abandonment. Or it can be our own independent state of deeply entrenched melancholy. Whatever the sense is that is caught and causes us to weep, it is wholeheartedly profound and intrinsically connected to what makes us human.
You know when you haven’t shed a tear for a while? It doesn’t feel right, does it? You almost begin to feel guilty of something, as if your soul has turned stale, into a machine or extra-terrestrial being. And then you fall in love again and remember what it is to cry. You feel awoken and inspired to live and make an effort at it. You may be distraught and bedridden, but you are alive because you are experiencing a revelatory depth of emotion. The human being who cries, is, at that moment of shedding a tear, indisputably human, which is a beautiful thing. It is therefore a very special event to cry. It of course occurs in some of us more than others. But it will eventually occur in all of us, one way or another.
Cinema has the power to ignite tears. In the cinema we can cry. And we cry freely in this safe place. Nobody else has to know what we are feeling. The cinema belongs to us. Others may feel different feelings from the same film, but whatever it is that we are feeling, if we are crying, then we are alive and experiencing something magical, together. This can be interpreted as an expression and symptom of love and beauty. And it is love and beauty as experienced via the medium of cinema. Therefore, cinema is undeniably a very serious and profound art form.
Painting and music make us cry, absolutely. But nothing makes us cry like watching a spectacle full of emotional characters fighting a good fight. Nothing makes us cry like a series of images that speak of unspeakable beauty when set in cinematic motion. Nothing makes us cry like the cinema.
Raqqa, a city located in the northeast of Syria, is under the control of the “so-called Islamic State” (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ISIL/ISIS). “So-called” as it must be reiterated that they by no means represent Islamic faith or a nation state. They are a terrorist group organisation. And the city of Raqqa has been suffocating under their barbaric and extremist rule since March 2013 when the Rebel forces launched the offensive and declared themselves in “near-total control”, making it the first provincial capital to come under their control. They commit atrocities daily, but most innocent killings are never reported. ISIS stamp out the media. They take down civilian satellites. They behead anybody who dares to oppose their own religiously violent ideology. They are not Muslims. They are extremists of Islamic fundamentalism.
Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) is a campaign launched by a group of non-violent activists to expose the ISIS regime. They shed light on the devastation inflicted upon civilians from inside the territory. The power of citizen journalism is behind them. “A camera is more powerful than a weapon”, utters the man holding the Canon. Words are also more important than weapons, speaks the college student writing up notes. It’s in times of severe oppression when one’s ability to convey the truth objectively is worth staying alive for. Their fathers and their brothers are being slaughtered for opposing rebel rule. But the RBSS group will never give up on fighting for the life they believe in, where peace, love, and justice prevail. They hope their children will live better lives. That is why some flee the city and operate remotely from Germany where refugees are given a chance to build a new home for themselves.
Matthew Heineman’s documentary, City of Ghosts, which premiered in Sundance and is now on release in the UK (as of 21st July 2017), is astronomically harrowing. It is not tied to a political or militant message. It views the events as witnessed by civilian footage and close-up encounters with RBSS group members. Thus, we are thrown into Raqqa and get struck by a shocking blend of brainwashed children with machine guns, anxious and emotionally devastated civilians, plus videos of torturous acts of violence being committed by ISIS. The documentary is not designed to wash-up our emotions or make us unload our pockets for charity, it is instead a well-documented and carefully posited insight into the subject of extremism and the undisputed case of terror in Raqqa. The war in Syria rages on. We know that, but the least we can do is provoke our thoughts, listen to their story, and engage in what is bloody good journalism.
The RBSS site is live and you can read their latest report here: Young men are being forced into recruitment by the Syrian Democratic Forces SDF – http://www.raqqa-sl.com/en/2017/07/22/compulsory-youth-recruitment-in-raqqa-isis-and-sdf/