Total Recall

Total Recall: Shine a Light on Martin Scorsese

Give these a spin: Who's That Knocing At My Door, The King of Comedy, and After Hours.

by | April 2, 2008 | Comments

This week,
‘s Rolling Stones documentary
a Light
hits theaters. We at Rotten Tomatoes have decided to highlight some
of the lesser-known gems in the filmography of a man many have called America’s
greatest living director.

If you haven’t seen
Mean Streets
Taxi Driver
Raging Bull,
, or his long-awaited Best Picture
winner The Departed, get thee to a video store immediately. Still,
Scorsese’s body of work is so consistently excellent that even his second-tier
films contain plenty of riches (Life Lessons, the short he made for the
omnibus New York Stories) or have influenced other filmmakers (both
Quentin Tarantino and
Richard Linklater have paid homage to Scorsese’s little-
seen doc
American Boy
in their own movies). directing several audacious student films at NYU,
Scorsese made his feature debut with
Who’s That Knocking At My Door
(1967, 75
percent on the Tomatometer)
, a raw slice-of-life story strongly influenced by indie auteur
John Cassavetes
. Door follows J.R. (Harvey Keitel, in his
first billed role), a young man from Little Italy who idles away his hours
hanging with a group of buddies. He falls for a girl from the other side of the
tracks after a lengthy discussion of
The Searchers
on the Staten Island
Ferry. However, when he learns she’s been raped, J.R. falls into a morass of
unease and Catholic guilt — themes that would continue to inform later
Scorsese’s films.

It’s easy to view Who’s That Knocking At My Door as
simply a rough draft for Scorsese’s later, greater films. The movie went through
a long period of development, with Scorsese editing scenes together that had
been shot at different times for different projects; he even added an arty (and,
frankly, overblown) sex scene after an exploitation distributor requested it.
However, such an analysis overlooks the many pleasures — and innovations — on
display. Scorsese’s ability to present the daily rhythms of life in an urban
neighborhood is already in evidence, and his use of contemporary pop tunes on
the soundtrack was groundbreaking for its time. Channel 4 called Who’s
That Knocking At My Door
“a wonderfully inspiring low-budget feature, with
more than just an inkling of the treats to come.”

Who’s That Knocking At My Door‘s party scene (with different music).’s films are filled with men who, despite limited
talent or smarts, desperately want to be someone. If Rupert Pupkin, the
antihero of
The King of Comedy
(1983, 92 percent)
, has a sunnier outward
disposition than Travis Bickle, he’s no less psychotic on the inside. Pupkin
(played with smarmy neediness by
Robert DeNiro) dreams of stand-up comedy fame;
his apartment is decorated like the set of a talk show, and he has imaginary
conversations with cardboard cutouts of big stars. One night, he weasels his way
into the limo of late night host Jerry Langford (deftly played by
Jerry Lewis).
Langford is cordial to Pupkin, vaguely promising to check out his act. However,
Pupkin blows this chance meeting out of proportion, showing up at Langford’s
office calling his home; after being rebuffed several times, he and fellow
stalker Masha (Sandra Bernhard) hatch a plot to kidnap Langford.

As black as black comedies come, The King of Comedy
is often painful to watch; Pupkin’s unearned self-regard lands him in plenty of
awkward situations, but there are stretches of the film (including the
much-debated ending) in which Pupkin’s delusions seem painfully within his
grasp. If King was met with confusion by the critics upon its release,
its dark critique of the culture of celebrity looks eerily prescient in our
paparazzi-saturated age. Chuck O’Leary of Fantastica Daily called it “one
of the most disturbing, thought-provoking and funniest films of the 1980s. This
underappreciated Scorsese great is more relevant today than ever.”

The King of Comedy: How to blow a date in four minutes. attention
to After
(1985, 92 percent)
: it’s the closest Scorsese will ever come
to making a stoner comedy. Set during one increasingly bizarre night, plain
office drone Paul (Griffin Dunne) has one simple goal: to get back home after a
failed one night stand. How many obstacles can Scorsese and screenwriter
stuff in a few hours? Try three psychotic blondes, angry taxi drivers and
subway employees, an ice cream truck,
Cheech Marin and
Tommy Chong, a bonafide
bloodthirsty mob, and Paul’s Kafkaesque ability to never have enough money to
get anywhere. Shot quickly and aggressively to rekindle Scorsese’s love for
filmmaking, After Hours is as hilarious as it is kinda frightening. The grit,
the grime, the sheer randomness of New York as filtered through the eyes of a
1980s yuppie makes this “a rich, wincingly funny metaphysical farce.” (Dave Kehr,
Chicago Reader)

After Hours: “Give me a token!”

Throughout his career, Scorsese has shown a devotion to
branching out past strictly movies, uncovering new platforms to tell his
stories. While the movies we just discussed aren’t as widely recalled among the
movie-going public compared to his other successes, even less seen is Scorsese’s
work in television, music videos, and short film. If you haven’t gotten around
to them yet, we’ll start you off: the complete 16-minute video to Michael
Jackson’s “Bad” is
available on YouTube
, as is 2007’s
The Key to Reserva
which doubles as a really long commercial and a ravishing homage to Hitchcock.

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