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.


The Grand Budapest Hotel – It is all a bit too much Mr. Anderson

The Grand Budapest Hotel


The Grand Budapest Hotel
Scott Rudin Productions, Indian Paintbrush, US
100 Mins
UK Release: 7th March 2014

Director Wes Anderson
Producer Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin et al.
Screenwriter Wes Anderson
Cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman
Cast Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Edward Norton et al.

You can either love or hate Wes Anderson, or you can love and hate him at the same time. Unfortunately, The Grand Budapest Hotel has torn me apart. It is undeniably perfect Anderson: obsessive and strict design, colour palettes, composition, framing and blocking. However, it is essentially missing something; my emotions traversed from sheer boredom to stifled laughter to disorderly admiration. My conclusion is that Anderson has become too overworked; I dislike him for this, yet at the same time a part of me admires the man for his precise ingenious.

The film starts and immediately you taste Anderson’s stop-motion style with precise camera panning and boxed framing. The film then jumps through three prologues of time, with the familiar Anderson narration and expose of shots, until we land ourselves at The Grand Budapest Hotel between the wars in a fictional state of Europe. What follows is a story of chapters with crimes, chases, mischief, rivalry, envy and even slapstick comedy. It is all tightly wound and then released like a chasm, the chapters seem somewhat disjointed, the acts become emotionally sterile and ultimately there isn’t a chance for the story to coerce.

We are presented with the same Anderson, but also a new Anderson. He presses on his comedic roots and concentrates on the physicality of funny. M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) is the prime consent for this, and Fiennes is brilliantly on key creating a few treasurable notes of laughter. On occasion, this isn’t just through material act, but also sharp, witty and almost obscene dialogue. In one scene, he utters to the new lobby boy (whose elder self is predominantly narrating the story – F. Murray Abraham). “When you’re young it’s all fillet steak, but as you get older, you have to move onto the cheaper cuts.” If you like Anderson for his melancholic charm and grounded representations of struggling individuals in a fantastical yet realistic world (think Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums), then don’t have high expectations for this, you won’t get what you came for.

This film is being highly applauded (a reason for my great expectations), yet for all the same reasons, the obvious stylistic reasons. I haven’t seen a single review commenting on how they related to the story on a personal or cultivating note. Are we focusing on a cinematic story here, or what appears to be a theatrical and all-too whimsically clever telling of one?

Lastly, I will mention what is palpable and largely unsettling: the ensemble cast of great name actors all battling for a screen spot. A great cast list can give a film much admirable credit, however Anderson has gone a bit overboard here, with Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson popping up for five or so minutes, the story becomes even more fictitious and preposterous. I won’t list the rest of the cast, simply search it on IMDB or watch the film, but it is certainly remarkable yet somewhat heedless.

It was a muddled evening, and to be honest I am still rather mystified amidst my contemplations on the film. Frankly, I was disappointed and the film is no more than what Anderson’s lavish style makes it. One might say you are better off trying to watch it inside out.

2.5 stars

Watch the trailer below: