Precious Bodily Fluids

Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)


RagingBullThe opening credits sequence is all slow-mo, glorying in a static frame long shot of LaMotta warming up in the ring alone, distanced but surrounded by spectators. Occasional flashes of diegetic photography punctuate the image. The bold, overt shot (uninterrupted save for the flashes?), set to orchestral music, sets the film apart from sports films contemporary to Raging Bull. This soundtrack and this image are decidedly different from The Natural, which, though it included slow motion and an orchestral soundtrack, acts more like a Spielberg blockbuster, aiming at an emotional impact with its closeup shots at climactic moments. Raging Bull, on the other hand, uses slow motion only at moments of intense subjectivity and obsession, once the opening sequence is over. As for the opening sequence, it is in the truest sense an anti-climax rather than a climax. We have no narrative context yet, and we are set apart from the object of our attention. He is a piece to be observed, and our lack of investment in him at this point keep our emotions and affections at bay. Nothing spine-tingling is happening, and nothing ever does. The aforementioned subjective slow-motion shots that continue to occur throughout the film tend to happen from Jake’s POV, though not exclusively. Most happen when he looks across the room, usually overwhelmed with jealousy and/or desire (no difference to him). The effect briefly humanizes this character defined by animality (“raging bull”), and one who is strangely obsessed with animals (he claims he will eat a neighbor’s dog and various insults revolve around animal genitalia). But humanizing Jake is not equal to sympathizing with him. This is Scorsese doing an art film and keeping things professional, distant, unreal. It’s not the first time he’s used black and white (see Who’s That Knocking At My Door? and perhaps others), but the effect here, along with an arm’s-length study of a troubled character and a cinematographic flair (not just slow motion but camera movements and impressive edits), makes Raging Bull a counterpoint to the crowd-pleasing feel-good status quo of Rocky. Whereas Scorsese had been making it a campaign to validate rock music over the past decade (see Mean Streets and The Last Waltz), popular music is absent from the soundtrack. Orchestral music reigns and contributes to the distant, pensive, artistic effect. Toward the end, diegetic sound starts to cut out — errors in my copy, or something else? In addition to slow motion, we have some long shots, perhaps most notably the one near the end when Jake rehearses his stage performance using Marlon Brando dialogue from On The Waterfront. Intertextual reference to a film like this only further grounds Raging Bull in the tradition of art cinema. As if to make the reference particularly self-reflexive, DeNiro in 1980 was arguably most famous from his role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II, a role that Brando played first.

This entry was published on June 20, 2014 at 4:33 pm. It’s filed under 1980s Cinema, American film, Martin Scorsese and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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