Brow Beat

In 1967, Martin Scorsese Used Shaving as a Powerful Metaphor for Vietnam

While working on what would become his first feature film, Who’s That Knocking at My Door, Martin Scorsese made the short film The Big Shave, starring Peter Bernuth. Cinephiles and devoted Scorsese fans may be familiar with the movie, but for those who aren’t, Film School Rejects has called attention to it this week, and it’s definitely worth a viewing.

Backed with the jarring soundtrack of Bunny Berigan’s upbeat 1939 jazz recording “I Can’t Get Started,” the film quickly becomes unsettling, as the director turns a mundane act into a strangely harrowing metaphor for the Vietnam War. (The film was also called The Big Shave … or Viet ’67, and was originally planned to debut at a week-long protest called “The Angry Arts Against the War.”) It’s a subject that Scorsese would return to with even greater intensity and darkness just a few years later in Taxi Driver, and this short hints at what was to come.

As noted in Scorsese on Scorsese, the director conceived of the film after emerging from a “spell of deep depression,” during which he apparently had trouble shaving. The Big Shave premiered in 1968 at the Festival of Experimental Cinema in Belgium and won the Prix de l’Age d’Or.