[1980] Raging Bull

“Boxing” films traditionally mythologize the ring as place sacrosanct. When a fighter steps through the soggy void between the semi-taut ropes and onto the mat, a particularly delicate “outside” struggle dissolves and the fighter refocuses on beating his or her opponent to a pulp. Bloody eyes and broken noses replace bleeding hearts and shattered minds, if just for the half hour. No ambitious souls have yet made a film documenting a well-adjusted boxer, as the metaphor is so obvious that as a motif, the damaged fighter, has nearly outlived its storied and well-respected history. The audience knows as much and often will seek out a “boxing” film as a place to witness redemption; the ring is both dangerous battleground and safe haven. The ring is anger and the fighter is pure punches. What makes Raging Bull a cut above the rest is the manner by which the audience connects to the ring through cinematography.

Director Martin Scorsese wanted the audience to feel Robert De Niro’s overwhelming life as real-life boxer and champion, Jake LaMotta. Raging Bull, as a rightful torch-bearer for 1976’s Rocky, demonstrates boxing mythos through tried-and-true means: Jake is a man of few words, but when he speaks the world seems to rattle. He finds no inner peace in the ring, per se, but the canvas mat and attending ropes become a home through which he can channel his pervasive anger. And the audience feels this: the steady punches – tat, tat, pumpf, the off-center angles, close-ups and pan-outs, all timed as though in 7/8 time. Raging Bull is a musical without melody, thump, thump, snatch, spin. Crash. When the bell rings, skulls rattle.  Continue reading