Since seeing Gangs of New York in 2002, I have steadily become a fan of the films of Martin Scorsese. However, with the exception of Taxi Driver and King of Comedy, I had yet to see many of Scorsese’s early films, which made him the acclaimed filmmaker he is today. As such, with this year’s blindspot line-up, I thought that I would remedy this by including not one, but two of Scorsese's classic films among my film selections for the year. The first of these selections is his highly acclaimed 1980 film Raging Bull, which won star Robert De Niro the Academy Award for Best Actor.
The film is a biopic about Jake LaMotta (DeNiro), a middleweight boxing star from the 1940s, who was managed by his younger brother Joey (Joe Pesci). While pining for a title shot, LaMotta battled his inner demons, including a violent temper, jealousy against those who interacted with his wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), and a compulsive eating habit, which results in extreme weight gain. All of these vices results in LaMotta going down a self-destructive path.
One thing that surprised me about Raging Bull is how little of the actual plot of the film dealt with LaMotta’s boxing career. While the film still features its fair share of boxing, the film seemed to be more about Jake LaMotta’s slowly crumbling personal life. That said, the boxing scenes in the film are quite well done and Scorsese almost gives them an operatic quality. Then there is one of the big fights later on in the film, which features some quite graphic violence. One could only imagine what all the blood during the final fight would look like if the film was in colour.
While much of the film was shot in black and white, presumably to reflect the time period (and tone down the boxing violence), there was a montage at one point of the film, which incorporated colour home movie footage. This was quite unexpected for me and I wonder why Scorsese decided to include it in the film, especially since I’m not sure colour film existed in the time period the film takes place in.* Perhaps these colour scenes are meant to represent happy times for Jake LaMotta and his family, before his demons take over.
Robert DeNiro won an Oscar for his performance in the film and I’m sure part of that comes from his totally unrecognizable transformation in the third act of the film, which portrays LaMotta as a washed up and grossly overweight nightclub owner. The film also resulted in Oscar nominations for both Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty. It could probably be said that Raging Bull is the film that helped properly kick off Pesci’s career and the high-tempered, foul-mouthed, characters he would become known for playing. As for Cathy Moriarty, other than knowing her for her antagonistic role in 1995’s Casper (of all films), I can’t really recall her being known for much more than Raging Bull. In some ways, Moriarty was to this film as Margot Robbie is to Scorsese’s latest film The Wolf of Wall St.
While I admit to not being totally blown away on this first viewing of Raging Bull, I still can say that I liked the film and I look forward to processing the film more on repeat viewings.8 | LIKED IT
*After writing this, I found out that colour 8mm film DID exist in the time period.