The films opening two scenes show signs of some of Scorsese’s later work and feature an Italian mother cooking (Italianamerican, Goodfellas) and J.R. getting into a street brawl with his friends (Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York). An early scene which really stands out for me is the meeting of the two protagonists. The scene lasts several minutes as the two get to know each other. Both are noticeably nervous. Bethune is shy and reserved while Keitel fidgets and talks too quickly. The scene is shot using a single camera which slowly pans from one actor to the other, occasionally zooming in and out. It is a quite beautiful shot. After a few minutes Scorsese breaks with this and introduces some unusual camera angles including one from above and another that obscures both actors’ mouths with a bench. It’s an interesting and bold start to a debut feature.
Many of the external shots on of
are shot from rooftop level. This
is something else which Scorsese repeated in Mean Streets and is something that I really enjoyed about the
battle scene in The Avengers. It
gives the proceedings a voyeuristic impression. It feels as though we are
secretly watching the couple as they begin their relationship. This voyeurism
is continued in an intimate scene in which the couple kiss passionately on a
bed. The camera is positioned in such a way that the audience feels a part of
the kissing. There are numerous close-ups of the actor’s lips embracing and of
their closed eyes, hands and limbs. It is an uncomfortable scene and feels as
though we are intruding. Once the kissing has finished, the camera takes a step
back and the scene is shot from outside the room and behind a door almost as if
to say that it’s over now, you can go back to watching rather than being
involved. It introduces guilt into the mind of the viewer. Another way in which
Scorsese used close up in this film is to show minute details which are usually
taken for granted and ignored. These include a finger on an electric car window
button, a padlock being closed and a locking door. These are all nice little
touches that add depth and realism to the film. New York
Another scene I liked was when J.R. was partying with his friends. Scorsese used a slow motion panning shot with no dialogue but rock music over the top. He again repeated this in Mean Streets and most memorably in Goodfellas and again it gave the impression that you the viewer was at the party, walking through the groups of people and involved.
|Intimate Close up|
One problem with the film is that it feels very disjointed. The two strands of the film feel completely unconnected and indeed were never originally intended to be part of the same film. The sections with J.R. and his friends were originally a short film that Scorsese made as a student and these were spliced together with the romantic elements to create a feature. A third, much shorter section in which J.R. fantasies about having sex with prostitutes or broads as he refers to them was added still later in order to appeal to the exploitation market. This scene in particular feels totally out of place but is beautifully shot. It feels more like an art installation that part of a narrative feature. It is also significantly less personal and more frenetic than the scenes featuring Keitel and Bethune.
Harvey Keitel delivers a confident and compelling performance that is somewhat reminiscent of his later Mean Streets character. He appears very natural and his acting as well as the, it must be said, slightly mundane story, give the film a very realistic feel. Zina Bethune is also good and is herself somewhat similar to Sybil Shepherd’s character in Taxi Driver. She plays the archetypal Scorsese blonde but plays it well. The rest of the cast are generally fine and again appear very natural, except for the odd occasion when someone will look directly into the camera.
The closing stages focus on a revelation by the girl and Keitel’s reaction to it. At first he is angry and then gets drunk. His Catholic Guilt makes him unable to fully accept the revelation, despite his love for the girl. The very final scene makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever and if anyone can explain it to me, I’d be very grateful!
Overall this is a fairly rough and uneven film in which Scorsese is still finding his voice. Some of his directorial traits are already in place, as are some of his regular themes. The use of Rock & Roll for instance was almost unheard of in a movie soundtrack prior to this film. In the end the film is almost like a dry run for Mean Streets which is Scorsese’s first great work. Nonetheless it is an extremely confident and well made debut.