Who's That Knocking at My Door? (I Call First) (1967)

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Released 8-Jun-2005

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Select Scenes:Martin Scorsese (Dir.)&Mardik Martin (Assist.)
Featurette-Making Of-From The Classroom To The Streets
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1967
Running Time 86:06
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (40:10) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Martin Scorsese
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Zina Bethune
Harvey Keitel
Anne Collette
Lennard Kuras
Michael Scala
Harry Northup
Tsuai Yu-Lan
Saskia Holleman
Bill Minkin
Philip Carlson
Wendy Russell
Robert Uricola
Susan Wood
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music The Doors
Ray Barretto
Autry DeWalt


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Italian
Dutch
Arabic
Bulgarian
Romanian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Who's That Knocking at My Door is the first feature length film from Martin Scorsese. In fact, it did not start as a feature film; it was a graduate project (or possibly a number of projects), which went through a number of versions and carried a number of titles before Scorsese's film professor at New York University, Haig Manoogian, helped assemble a working version for distribution. At one stage it was titled Bring on the Dancing Girls and later I Call First, which is a reference to one of the scenes. To help secure distribution, a dream-like scene with J.R. and various naked women was shot in Holland, four years after the original footage was filmed.

    The story vaguely follows J.R., Harvey Keitel's character, hanging out with his friends, getting into fights, drinking, and cruising for broads, as well as a burgeoning relationship with a girl who remains nameless, played by Zina Bethune. Shot in black and white, with post-synchronised sound, it is very obviously a student film. However, fans of Scorsese's early signature films, such as Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull will easily recognise the stylistic ticks and the thematic concerns.

    J.R. meets the girl whilst waiting for the Statten Island ferry, and in a remarkably long dialogue scene manages to charm her with a conversation about John Wayne westerns, which is an obvious male fantasy. I've never met a girl who would so patiently listen to a conversation about Westerns or the Duke. What makes the conversation even more absurd is the girl tells J.R. from the start that she has no idea what he is talking about. However, this is much of the film's charm, and Keitel was very handsome at this young age. It is not too long before he is charming her on his mother's bed, overlooked by religious statues and artefacts, in a scene very reminiscent of a similar scene in Raging Bull. The fumbling on the bed doesn't go too far, because the Catholic guilt and sexual innocence that preoccupies the early Scorsese films is first raised here, and will become the central theme and conflict in the relationship between J.R. and the girl.

    When he's not being torn between religious guilt and his libido, J.R. hangs out in a small bar with friends Joey (Lennard Kuras) and Sally Gaga (Michael Scala), arguing over where to drink (even though they are in Joey's bar) or where to find girls. Their circular conversations are similar to the dialogue between Keitel and DeNiro some years later in Mean Streets, providing a strange balance between being hysterical and utterly frustrating. There is almost no plot involving these characters and their conversations point to the ennui of their day to day existence in the lower east side. A weekend sojourn in the country shows city slickers J.R. and Joey struggling up the side of a large hill, egged on by their more enlightened friend. At the top J.R. recognises the beauty of the landscape, and for a fleeting moment realises there is a larger world beyond the confines of his inner city life.

    Who's That Knocking at My Door is a strange mixture of Scorsese's signatures, such as the cameo by his mother cooking dinner at the start of the film, followed immediately by a vicious street fight which literally explodes along the pavement. There are the dialogue heavy scenes which define the characters according to a limited number of preoccupations, such as J.R.'s long-winded conversation about The Searchers, and his narrow distinction between girls and broads after taking the girl to see Rio Bravo, which is really the distinction between the Madonna and whores. Unfortunately for the couple, J.R.'s limited ideas about women and sexuality will become an impossible obstacle when the girl decides to share a painful secret from her past, which begins a poignant and traditional Scorsese thematic about men being doomed and betrayed by their commitment to an ideal.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Who's That Knocking at My Door is a black and white film in the 1.78:1 ratio and is 16x9 enhanced.

    When you consider that this film was a student film shot with almost no budget, and on a combination of 35mm and 16mm, often at night and without professional lighting equipment, it is not a bad looking film. Scorsese explains in his commentary that he and his cinematographer, Richard Coll, were obsessed by the black and white 35mm films coming out of Europe, which lead them to also shoot on black and white 35mm. (Michael Wadley was the other cinematographer, and Max Fisher shot additional sequences uncredited.) Unfortunately, the only 35mm camera at their disposal was a Mitchell camera, which is apparently huge, and took up much of the space in their already cramped locations. Later, they were able to use a 16mm Éclair camera which gave them a lot of mobility, used to great effect on the streets of the lower east side.

    The transfer is sharp where this is sharpness in the original print, and it is sharp enough to show off all of the film grain in the night sequences shot on 16mm. Shadows come up very well, and there is almost no low level noise to complain about.

    MPEG artefacts and film-to-video artefacts are kept well under control, showing that a great deal of care has gone into this transfer.

    Not surprisingly, there are a lot of film artefacts, and they include everything from scratches to blotches. There are a lot of scratches at the start of the film on a close up of hands from 0:37 - 0:41. From 8:42 - 10:49 there is a fine scratch down the centre of the frame during the scene when J.R. meets the girl. At 10:25 there is a white splotch in the bottom left corner of the frame, and at 12:15 there is quite a noticeable black smudge to the left of the frame. At 15:00 the image is much darker than the footage from two cuts previous, but then it switches back to the lighter stock. At 44:51 - 45:35 there is a faint white hole in the print, and at 49:25 - 49:33 the print is scratched. These artefacts continue to the very end, and although they are quite noticeable, they are not too distracting for a student film which is almost 40 years old.

    The subtitles are mostly accurate and occasionally skip words or names for the sake of brevity.

    The layer change is at 40:10 and is extremely quick and quiet.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three audio tracks: the default English, and Italian, and an Audio Commentary. Each is mono Dolby Digital 1.0 encoded at 192Kb/s. I listened to the English and Commentary.

    The same evaluation of the video quality applies here: the limited resources have dictated the quality of what we have here. It has obviously been cleaned up a lot, because there are no problems with distortion, hiss, or pops.

    I think all of the dialogue was done via ADR and it shows. The dialogue is usually very clear and easy to understand because it was looped in post production, but the sync is way off. To compensate for this, Scorsese has obviously learnt a few tricks from the French New Wave (whose ground breaking films were making such an impact in that decade and influencing young American directors of Scorsese's generation), and there are numerous scenes where the video and audio tracks are completely independent of each other. Dialogue from one scene might intrude into a new scene, or carry over from an old scene. This technique creates an intriguing effect, particularly in the scene when J.R. meets the girl, because the dialogue becomes a background sound of banal conversation which does not distract attention away from the play of emotions across the actor's faces.

    The music is mostly a collection of contemporary songs, most obviously The End by The Doors and El Watusi by Ray Barretto, which are very suited to the material. Scorsese comments that this film is when he started experimenting with music, and it is easy to see this style in Mean Streets, Goodfellas, and Casino. The film opens with a very interesting scratching sound-effect which has been used as a musical effect, however there are no credits for a composer; the sound is credited to John Binder and Jim Datri.

    This is a simple mono soundtrack, so there is no surround or subwoofer activity.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are not a lot of Extras here, but they are worthwhile. It is unfortunate that a proper documentary wasn't produced, or some of Scorsese's early student films included, such as It's Not Just You, Murray.

Menu

    The menu is 16x9 enhanced, featuring a monochromatic picture of Keitel and a girl, with looped music from the film's opening credits.

Featurette: From the classroom to the streets: The making of "Who's That Knocking at My Door" (12:40)

    This is not really a making-of documentary, but rather an interview with Mardik Martin, featuring his personal photos plus various clips from the film. Martin provides some interesting background into the making of the film, plus information about his and Scorsese's attendance at New York University, as well as his own life as an immigrant student from Baghdad.

Commentary

    This is not a scene-specific commentary by Martin Scorsese and Mardik Martin, and runs for less than 43 minutes. Even though the film shifts to different scenes during the commentary, neither Scorsese's or Martin's comments, which were recorded separately, actually apply to the on-screen action. Scorsese provides a general impression of what was going on in his life at the time, what he was trying to achieve with the film, as well as information about the production. In true Scorsese fashion he talks at 100 miles an hour and offers a wealth of information in a very short space of time. Martin's comments include much of what he says in his interview from the featurette. Although insightful, this commentary seems to be a wasted opportunity to have Scorsese and Martin provide a joint scene-specific commentary.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Who's That Knocking at My Door was released in Region 1 on the 17th of August, 2004. A perusal of various reviews indicates we have the exact same package, with the same video and audio transfers, faults and all, and the same extras. The Region 4 has the advantage of a PAL transfer and a relatively cheap price, and is the choice in this comparison.

Summary

    Who's That Knocking at My Door is Scorsese's first feature length film, based on various student projects and shot over a number of years before being assembled into this version. Not a great film, but an important one if you want to complete your Scorsese collection.

    Considering the lack of budget, student origins, and the film's age, the video quality is surprisingly good, and will probably never look this good elsewhere.

    The audio quality is also quite good despite being a very limited mono track.

    The extras are disappointingly slight, but they are quite good, and better than nothing.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Michael Cohen (read my bio)
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDPhilips 860, using RGB output
DisplaySony 76cm FD Trinitron WEGA KV-HX32 M31. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationSherwood
SpeakersSherwood

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