Posted October 23, 2011 by editor in Retrospectives
 
 

Scorsese: Raging Bull


Raging Bull: My Story is written by Jake La Motta with Joseph Carter and Peter Savage and was first published in 1970. La Motta known as ‘The Bronx Bull’ was raised in the Bronx slums. He spent time in reform school, committed armed robbery and rape and even killed a man.

When La Motta’s book was first released it didn’t attract much attention. It was not until Robert De Niro read Raging Bull: My Story back in the 70s did he then decide to persuade Martin Scorsese to turn the book into a film and the rest (as they say) is history. Jake La Motta’s book and name has been given a new lease of life which stretches far beyond the boxing fraternity.

Directed by Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island, Mean Streets and Goodfellas) Raging Bull (1980) is a bold and unforgiving movie about one man’s raw anger which manifests itself outwardly as brute force both literally and psychologically.

In this uncompromisingly brutal and emotionally charged movie we see Robert De Niro (Casino, Midnight Run and Once upon A Time in America) take on the role of a middleweight boxing champion Jake La Motta.

Filmed in black and white, Raging Bull chronicles the turbulent life of Jake La Motta from his humble beginnings as a struggling boxer in1941 through to his shambolic, sloth ridden downfall as a stand-up comedian in mid 1960s.

Raging Bull: My Story (1970) was written by Jake La Motta with Joseph Carter and Peter Savage. La Motta, known as ‘The Bronx Bull’, and was raised in the Bronx slums. He spent time in reform school, committed armed robbery and rape and even killed a man.

When La Motta’s book was first released it didn’t attract much attention. It wasn’t until Robert De Niro read Raging Bull: My Story back in the 70s and persuaded Martin Scorsese to turn the book into a film that Jake La Motta’s book and name got a notoriety that stretches far beyond the boxing fraternity. Raging Bull (1980) is a bold and unforgiving movie about one man’s raw anger which manifests itself outwardly as brute force both literally and psychologically.

Filmed in black and white, Raging Bull chronicles the turbulent life of Jake La Motta (De Niro) from his humble beginnings as a struggling boxer in 1941, through to his pursuit of the world middleweight championship title (under the guidance of his brother/manager Joey [Joe Pesci]), and ultimately to his shambolic, booze-soaked downfall as a stand-up comedian in the mid-60s. As La Motta bludgeons his way up the rankings to the point where there is no one left to fight – or, at least, no one willing to fight him. La Motta’s brother is approached by the Mafia, which insists on taking control of La Motta’s career. During all this, La Motta’s head has been turned and he starts a romance with 15-year-old blond stunner Vickie (Cathy Moriarty). La Motta becomes so totally besotted with Vickie that he decides to divorce his wife and marry her.

It’s not long before La Motta’s escalating paranoia and insane jealousy causes him to suspect Vickie of sleeping with all and sundry. His rage spills over into the physical abuse of both his wife and his brother when La Motta suspects them (rightly or wrongly) of having an affair.

La Motta continues on his course of destruction, although somehow manages to win the Middleweight Championship Belt. But as the debris from his personal life starts to accumulate, La Motta soon loses his belt to Sugar Ray Robinson (Johnny Barnes), who had already defeated La Motta in five out of their six previous bouts. La Motta’s boxing career takes a nose dive into oblivion.

All this coincides with the seemingly irretrievable breakdown of his personal life. Estranged from both his brother and his wife, the now overweight and bloated La Motta attempts the long and lonely road back to some sort of normality and personal redemption.  However, he’s still juiced up on rage at a life that didn’t turn out to be as easy as he’d planned. In the end, La Motta eventually attains a sort of solace, or even state of grace, which to me is inspiring and it made me think, “Hmmm, maybe there is hope for him after all.”

As with most of Scorsese’s films he examines the ‘animal’ in the male species. Take a look at the similarities between the male roles in Goodfellas and Casino (to name but two) and you find that Raging Bull is in the same vein. Martin Scorsese’s brilliant adaptation and direction of Raging Bull is flawless. This, coupled with De Niro’s Oscar-winning performance (he gained up to 50 pounds for the role of the older, overweight La Motta), makes Raging Bull one of the most powerful boxing films ever.

If you try to compare this work of art to a lot of the films today, you may be surprised to find (as I was) that Raging Bull still ranks right up there with the best of them, and not only because of the sublime direction from Scorsese or the top notch acting. Praise must also go to the quite astounding elements of the cinematography, editing, sound and settings which comes together in an intense and at times gut wrenching whole.

This was my first time watching this piece of cinematic history, and it lived up to all expectations. The fact that it’s filmed in black and white only adds to the feel of the era that Raging Bull depicts. Make no mistake, Raging Bull revels in its no-holds barred and unsympathetic look at La Motta with his dial constantly set on self-destruct. This brutal offering from Scorsese is often unpleasant and painful but so compelling to watch. This marvellously crafted film left me with a bitter sweet feeling that lingered long after the fading of the end credits … bravo!

Donnie Tulloch


editor