‘Raging Bull’ returns to the ring
Raging Bull, considered one of the greatest American films, won neither the Oscar for best picture nor best director for Martin Scorsese in 1981.
The film that won those awards was Ordinary People, while Raging Bull’s Robert De Niro won for best actor, and Thelma Schoonmaker won for editing.
That outcome convinced Scorsese that perhaps his destiny was not entwined with an Oscar.
“I said, ‘It’s OK. Look at the film you got to make.’ Certain types of films don’t sit well within the system itself. So you just be glad you got to make them.”
At 62, Scorsese finds himself on the verge of academy recognition again. The Aviator leads with 11 Oscar nominations, including best director and best picture, going into Feb. 27’s Academy Awards.
Today, as part of the campaign to get him that Oscar, a 25th-anniversary edition DVD of Raging Bull is in stores ($30 or $50 as part of The Martin Scorsese Film Collection, which also includes New York, New York, The Last Waltz and Boxcar Bertha).
The DVD is loaded with extras: three commentary tracks and new interviews with Scorsese, De Niro, co-star Joe Pesci and crewmembers and comparison footage of De Niro and boxer Jake LaMotta.
“When the film came out, it got some nice reviews and some bad reviews,” Scorsese says. “I was surprised it got (eight) nominations. It was a tough film with its language and action. Ten to 12 years later, people started saying they really liked it. That brought the film to the attention of a new generation.”
Raging Bull was voted the greatest film of the ’80s in three polls and tied for sixth (with Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo) on the Top Ten All-Time director’s list conducted in 2002 by British film magazine Sight & Sound.
“It may have been the best film of the decade despite the fact that in a lapse of sanity, I put it No. 2 on my list for the year it was released,” says film critic Roger Ebert, author of The Great Movies II (Broadway Books, $29.95). He puts the film in his all-time top 10.
For more than five years, De Niro had nagged Scorsese about making a movie based on LaMotta’s autobiography. While Scorsese was in the hospital recovering from what he told Playboy magazine was “a period of excess,” De Niro told him that he should make the movie because he knew the material: that of a self-destructive personality.
De Niro’s physical transformation to play LaMotta through the years was a shape-shifting accomplishment that was followed more recently by Charlize Theron in Monster and Nicole Kidman in The Hours. He dropped to 152 pounds for the lean welterweight LaMotta and ballooned to 212 for the retired version of the character.
Producer Irwin Winkler remembers halting production for several months while De Niro gained the weight. “My office door opened suddenly one day, and there was a very rotund man walking in with a big smile. I was about to throw him out, and it was Bob,” Winkler says.
De Niro’s intensity as LaMotta could be frightening, such as when he confronts Pesci’s character about a rumored affair with LaMotta’s wife.
“When he stands up and he looks at his brother, he just became Jake LaMotta. It doesn’t even seem like acting,” Schoonmaker says.
LaMotta was one of several fatalistic protagonists Scorsese has chronicled, from Mean Streets’ Johnny Boy to Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle and now The Aviator’s Howard Hughes. Like LaMotta, Hughes’ story travels “the path I like,” Scorsese says. “He had a serious tragic flaw, and there was a price he had to pay for his genius. It’s a film about the spectacle of flying and making films, and at the same time, it’s about the fear of touching a doorknob.”
‘Raging Bull’ returns to the ring