Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Top 100 movies of the 1980s: #2
2. Raging Bull, 1980
Director: Martin Scorsese
In retrospect, what really makes Raging Bull stand out from almost all other '80s movies was what it ultimately represented. 1980 was officially the end of an era, the end of the New Hollywood movement. Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate would cast a dark cloud over all other filmmakers from the '70s and very few came out unscathed. Martin Scorsese was one of the few who would survive and continue to thrive in the '80s and Raging Bull is what ultimately separates him from his contemporaries. Making a movie like that, making it that good at that time would ultimately be very important for his legacy. Fact is, none of his contemporaries of the New Hollywood movement were making movies as good as Raging Bull around that time. Apocalypse Now came out in August of 1979, but filming stopped two years earlier. By 1980, Francis Ford Coppola had already begun his decline.
When Raging Bull came out, there was mixed reactions. The positive reviews were really positive, but others were turned off by a lot of aspects of the film. It wasn't long, however, until people started hailing Raging Bull as a classic. My point is, if Raging Bull didn't wind up being a classic, it could've marked the end of Scorsese as well. Scorsese had so much going against him when he was making the film, he was at the end of his rope. He had a serious cocaine problem before Deniro forced him to make the movie. Raging Bull saved his life.
It also marked the beginning of a burgeoning movie career for Joe Pesci who plays Jake LaMotta's brother, Joey. Robert Deniro, of course, plays Jake. Cathy Moriarty played Vicky, Jake's tortured love interest. The acting in this film is key to the film's success, but what puts Raging Bull over the top is Martin Scrosese's utter commitment to bring this story to life in every way he possibly can. Raging Bull is Scorsese's finest work from a technical standpoint. This is Martin Scorsese at his most artistically sound, having a complete control over his craft while still being able to indulge in stylistic flourishes. The different ways he uses the boxing ring, the way sound is used, the way black and white was used. From the opening shot of Jake LaMotta in the ring to the somewhat abrupt ending, Raging Bull has this poetic realism to it that really highlights the love Martin Scorsese has for the movies.
The subject matter initially wasn't something Scorsese went for. Robert Deniro pushed and pushed for Scorsese to make the film and he definitely knew something about Scorsese that Scorsese didn't know about himself. The filmmaker finally relented, read the book, and finally realized that this wasn't just a boxing picture. Boxing was a metaphor for Jake LaMotta's tempestuous life. The whole world was the boxing ring. Jake LaMotta used everything he could in real life to fuel himself to be able to box his opponents. He tortured himself, his wife, his brother until they all walked away from him. At the end, Joey couldn't even look him in the eye anymore after what Jake did to him. You can't blame Joey, you hate Jake for what he did, but Jake is also a human being. That's what I feel some people miss when seeing Raging Bull. Jake is definitely human, just a very tortured one.
Marty Scorsese could relate because he was just as tortured at the time. He was hooked on cocaine, he obsessed over his career, alienating others in the process. His films were to ultimately represent the pain and the turmoil that laid inside Scorsese's soul. Raging Bull was the culmination of that. Just like Jake LaMotta let out his demons in the boxing ring, Scorsese let it out in every frame of that film. I've talked about seeing a filmmaker putting his heart and soul into a film, well, that's what Raging Bull is all about to me. I got that from the first time I saw it. I saw the passion, I saw the utter devotion to the material. Raging Bull made me want to make movies, made me want to write about movies. Raging Bull was what made me want to major in Film in college. It was no longer just a hobby, it was a goal, it was something I had to do. I have passion inside my heart too and I feel I intrinsically understand everything Martin Scorsese had to say with this film. We may come up with our own interpretations and it may mean something different to us, obviously. But I wouldn't be here typing up on this blog and writing so much about all my favorite movies if it wasn't for this film. That Raging Bull is still #2 on my '80s list should tell you how strongly I feel about #1. Don't let the #2 placing fool you. I still consider Raging Bull to be among the greatest films ever made, at least in the last 40 years. Number 1 just happens to be included on that list as well (but more on that later, huh?).
What makes Raging Bull forever watchable for me would be character motivations. The three main characters are so deeply layered that you can have multiple interpretations as to why they do the things they do. Did Joey really have an affair with Vicky? Why did Joey viciously attack Salvy at the Copacabana? Why did Vicky admit to having an affair to Jake? Why did she go back to him? What made Jake LaMotta tick? Why is he the man that he is? I ask myself these things everytime I watch the film and I'm not sure I ever come closer to having an answer. It's the type of thing that just makes these characters feel that much more human to me. I have that feeling as well when we initially meet Vicky and Jake LaMotta slowly, quietly manages to have Vicky fall for him. He doesn't say much when they first meet and yet Vicky became so taken by him and decided she had to be with him. There was something unspoken between them initially and that was more than enough. Scenes like that are why Deniro won the Best Actor Oscar, it's not because of all the weight he gained.
Raging Bull is probably the only American film from the '80s that has become an indisputable classic since its release. AFI's first 100 movies list had the film at #24, the highest rated '80s film on the list. When they revised the list ten years later, Raging Bull was at #4. It's been listed on Time magazine as one of the best movies of all-time. It was on Sight and Sound's 2002 top ten list of one of the greatest films of all-time. Raging Bull is a movie too big to ignore and yet for such a classic, it's so violent, it's so volatile. It's filled with Catholic guilt and imagery. It's filled with anger and a feeling of there being nothing left to lose. Of all the types of films that often makes those best of all-time lists, Raging Bull is the one that has the most heart.