Monday, November 15, 2010

Raging Bull

The locution “the revival of Raging Bull” is quaint when you think about it. But the movie is indeed making a comeback, like its subject made when he reinvented himself as a performer—a transition that, at least according to Scorsese’s film, didn’t come as easily to him as his stalking style of fighting. There is a term in boxing called “walking your man down,” which is what Jake LaMotta did in the brilliantly recreated Sugar Ray Robinson bouts, which are right up there with Foreman and Ali, Ali and Frazier, Hagler and Hearns and, most recently, Gatti and Ward. Parenthetically, there is something about Arturo Gatti’s tragic end (was it suicide or homicide?) that is reminiscent of the decline of LaMotta that Raging Bull depicts. Fighters pay a price. Jerry Quarry suffered brain damage and one wonders if Ali’s Parkinson’s, like LaMotta’s severe paranoia, was a result of all the blows he took. In his last bout with Sugar Ray, he simply dropped his hands and endured the fury of his opponent’s punches. He couldn’t win that fight, but his victory was to walk over to Sugar Ray’s corner and taunt him with the fact that he never went down. In one scene in the film, the then new-comer and Scorsese discovery Cathy Moriarity, playing LaMotta’s bride-to-be, says to Robert De Niro’s LaMotta, “Nice car.” “Like that car?” LaMotta responds. “It’s nice,” she says. The exchange takes place through the fence outside a public swimming pool in the Bronx. The romance takes off, but the lines, which were plainly improvised, are like the reverse of the expression “a picture speaks a thousand words.” In this case, a few muted words conjure a thousand images. At the end of the film, the once trim LaMotta is now an overweight has-been, rehearsing Marlon Brando’s famous lines from On the Waterfront, “I coulda been a contender.” The words are comparatively pithy, but the great genius of De Niro, practicing in front of a mirror like fighters shadow box (and reminiscent of his performance in Taxi Driver), is in communicating so much more than what is said. 

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