Who’s That Knocking at My Door is really everything you’d want from a Scorsese debut. The film is a pencil sketch of so many ideas and concerns – both stylistically and thematically – that fascinate Scorsese even today. The movie is wall to wall with music with the camera hardly ever stopping to catch a still frame. It’s untamed and restless, more a collection of vignettes and montages than a cohesive narrative and you get the sense Scorsese can’t get his ideas out quick enough. He’s certainly reaching beyond his means aesthetically, but every time I watch the movie this one scene always stands out as a highlight.
Shot entirely in slow motion and scored to the sounds of “El Watussi” by Ray Barretto, the sequence depicts a rowdy party scene that suddenly turns dangerous when one of the guys unleashes a gun and starts waving it around. Not only does it mark a point in Scorsese’s filmography from which you can draw a straight line directly to many of Goodfellas‘ most memorable scenes, but it’s the one moment in the film when Scorsese’s stylistic judgements completely enhance the power of the scene. The slow motion really lets you take in the look on the guy’s face as he’s placed in a headlock with the gun shoved in his face. All the other faces around him are laughing and, seemingly, unaware or uncaring of the potential disaster that’s about to occur. It feels real and un-staged and is deeply unsettling. Going against that is the music which is infectious. Apparently Scorsese got the idea for the rotating camera move by listening to “I Get Around” by The Beach Boys but I’m not sure that track would work as well as the one he ended up with.
Scorsese’s technique (also utilizing the talents of his future cohort editor Thelma Schoonmaker) not only provides you with a potent taste of the danger of this lifestyle but also the allure. Everything Scorsese accomplished in Goodfellas is foreshadowed here in this 4 minutes. It’s really something to watch this scene knowing how Scorsese’s career would develop and amass over the years. Who’s That Knocking might not be a particularly great film, but this scene announces the arrival of a truly great filmmaker.