The Big Shave (Martin Scorsese, 1967, USA)

The Big Shave is a short film from 1967 directed by Martin Scorsese, recently presented in a very nice restoration in a collection of shorts from the Criterion Collection. The film opens in a white-tiled bathroom, to the sound of jazzy, big-band music. We are treated to isolated shots of the different aspects of the shower and sink, cool and chrome in the light. A young man in a white t-shirt and white pants appears in front of the mirror and begins preparing for a shave, washing his face. He begins applying the shaving cream and beginning what appears to be a normal shave.

Eventually, the young man begins cutting his face. The cuts appear small at first but then appear more and more. This culminates as the man begins to be bloodied across his face and chest. The film's original title - Viet '67 - is an indication of where he was going with this one. Still, the finale must have been shocking to Scorsese's classmates in film school, as The Big Shave was a school project. Its bloody finale echoes the shocks of explosive violence which would permeate the director's later works. Likewise, the juxtaposition of violence with pop or easy-listening music is another Scorsese staple. There is something about the masculine energy of this film that also echoes later work. By this time, Scorsese had already made several short films, and The Big Shave is the work of a director who is already quite comfortable with film language and conveying meaning through metaphor. If the metaphor in The Big Shave is a bit too on the nose - that the young man is a representation of US involvement in Vietnam - we can chalk this up to Scorsese being a young filmmaker angry about the world situation.



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