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18 Raging Bull 1980 
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Post 18 Raging Bull 1980
See James review


Tue Jul 21, 2009 1:33 am
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Post Re: 18 Raging Bull 1980
After reading the recent fracas between Rob and Ragna, I have to admit that Rob might actually have a bit of a point. We have let ourselves slip a little. Or, at the very least, there's nothing stopping us from holding ourselves to a higher standard. So to do something about it, or at least expurgate my own guilt a little bit, I think I'll make comments on some of the "great movies." Feel free to ignore these, but I'd love to get into a bit of a discussion about some of these.

Raging Bull (1980) **1/2

Ahhh Raging Bull, The life story of a cockroach. You know what's so ingenious about Goodfellas and Casino? The way Scorsese makes evil, evil criminals so damn appealing and recognizable. He certainly wasn't the first to make the audience root for flawed anti-heroes (hello pretty much all of Noir) but Bogart and Widmark were never like us, and neither were Brando, Caan, and Pacino. In a way they were always movie stars. But Liotta, DeNiro, and Pesci? They were people we all recognized, and instinctively sympathized with.

Alas, this gift Scorsese has is completely absent in 1980's Raging Bull. It's the story about a despicable, misogynistic, drunken creep who gets exactly what he deserves. And yet this is played for tragedy? What tragedy? Where's the interest? Where's the sense of character or development? I'm not a high school English teacher--I don't need every character to have an "arc"--but what the fuck? He starts the movie as an unrepentant asshole. He ends the movie as unrepentant asshole. Bad stuff happens to him. Apparently this is supposed to be moving. He sits in a jail cell and says "I'm not an animal!" But you know what? Scorsese didn't show anything to the contrary.

Is this a good reason to dislike a movie? I'm not sure. But as previously mentioned, Scorsese found something in Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci in his later films that all of us could relate to. In Raging Bull, he holds the audience at arm's length. So while it may be cinematic sacrilege to admit this, I think Academy voters made the right choice in 1980 for Best Picture, even if I might have given the direction nod to Marty.

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Tue Jul 27, 2010 11:33 pm
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Post Re: 18 Raging Bull 1980
The interest is that real life unrepentant assholes might see more of themselves in Jake La Motta than they care to admit. The absence of likable characters is completely irrelevant in the face of how faithfully this film reflects the cockroach side of humanity, which I'd say most people will either admit to having or lie about not having. By the same token, there's another side to La Motta, just as there's another side to everybody else. It's a side that he doesn't understand and is not comfortable with expressing, which--again--has more than a grain of truth to it.

The difference is that in GoodFellas, the kiddies in the audience actually feel good about relating to these scumbag characters. Perhaps they admire the gangster lifestyle, in the same way that Ray Liotta's character did as a kid. That admiration is probably absent for Raging Bull, and all that's left is the ugly side of it. There's no glamor--just raw, unremitting honesty.

Never mind that the film, while not as glossy as GoodFellas or as experimental as Taxi Driver, might just be Scorsese's classiest and most impeccably made.


Wed Jul 28, 2010 12:45 am
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Post Re: 18 Raging Bull 1980
Ken wrote:
The interest is that real life unrepentant assholes might see more of themselves in Jake La Motta than they care to admit. The absence of likable characters is completely irrelevant in the face of how faithfully this film reflects the cockroach side of humanity, which I'd say most people will either admit to having or lie about not having. By the same token, there's another side to La Motta, just as there's another side to everybody else. It's a side that he doesn't understand and is not comfortable with expressing, which--again--has more than a grain of truth to it


Please bear in mind that I never once used the word "likable" in my critique. Characters don't need to be likable, but they do need to be human. I'm not exaggerating when I saw that Adolf Hitler in Downfall was more identifiably human than Jake LaMotta was in this movie. Scorsese's trying to show that he's self-destructive, but that's only interesting if he's somehow at war with himself, battling his worst instincts, etc. Not if every second of the movie he does something stupid or animalistic to destroy his life.

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Wed Jul 28, 2010 12:51 am
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Post Re: 18 Raging Bull 1980
JamesKunz wrote:
Alas, this gift Scorsese has is completely absent in 1980's Raging Bull. It's the story about a despicable, misogynistic, drunken creep who gets exactly what he deserves. And yet this is played for tragedy? What tragedy? Where's the interest? Where's the sense of character or development? I'm not a high school English teacher--I don't need every character to have an "arc"--but what the fuck? He starts the movie as an unrepentant asshole. He ends the movie as unrepentant asshole. Bad stuff happens to him. Apparently this is supposed to be moving. He sits in a jail cell and says "I'm not an animal!" But you know what? Scorsese didn't show anything to the contrary.

Is this a good reason to dislike a movie? I'm not sure. But as previously mentioned, Scorsese found something in Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci in his later films that all of us could relate to. In Raging Bull, he holds the audience at arm's length. So while it may be cinematic sacrilege to admit this, I think Academy voters made the right choice in 1980 for Best Picture, even if I might have given the direction nod to Marty.


Must be my 'disagreeing with JamesKunz' day. What I took from Raging Bull is this: LaMotta is (depicted as) a person who cannot control his temper and particularly his jealousy. He knows that his abusive and/or violent outbursts are wrong and alienate the persons he most cares about, but he can't help it. Put it another way: He suffers from Catholic guilt. On a certain level, I can identify with that. (I'm neither particularly jealous, abusive or violent and certainly not a boxer, but don't we all want to be better persons than we are but often fail due to our flaws in character?). In order to find redemption, he masochistically punishes himself in the ring or punishes his opponents. The tragedy of his life is that he cannot escape who he is.

As much as I like GoodFellas (and the very similar Casino), it doesn't have a character of the depth of Raging Bull's Jake LaMotta. On a bad day, I might even argue that the characters in GoodFellas are stereotypical mafia movie characters. Is Joe Pesci in GoodFellas or Casino much different from James Cagney in a 1930ies gangster movie at the core?


Wed Jul 28, 2010 3:53 am
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Post Re: 18 Raging Bull 1980
Unke wrote:
He knows that his abusive and/or violent outbursts are wrong and alienate the persons he most cares about, but he can't help it.


Oh I don't think he does know that the things he does are wrong. I think Jake LaMotta, as presented in the movie, is a sociopath. He's incapable of any true human connection and everyone around him suffers. Yet for some reason we're supposed to say "Oh poor Jake LaMotta! He sure got railroaded by the law for fucking inebriated 12-year-olds"

Unke wrote:
On a bad day, I might even argue that the characters in GoodFellas are stereotypical mafia movie characters. Is Joe Pesci in GoodFellas or Casino much different from James Cagney in a 1930ies gangster movie at the core?


Oh come now I think you're being unfair! Look at the scene in Goodfellas where Pesci shoots Spider dead. Spider just stood up to him and now Pesci's friends are laughing at him because of what Spider said. Pesci sits there, annoyed, and then shoots Spider. When DeNiro yells at him about it, he gets petulant and defensive. Anyone who has been laughed at by their friends understands exactly how Pesci feels and why he wants to shoot Spider. He has the emotions of a little kid, but they're understandable. When LaMotta is punching his wife and pouring cold water on his dick, I didn't exactly feel the same level of empathy

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Wed Jul 28, 2010 10:56 am
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Post Re: 18 Raging Bull 1980
JamesKunz wrote:
Unke wrote:
He knows that his abusive and/or violent outbursts are wrong and alienate the persons he most cares about, but he can't help it.


Oh I don't think he does know that the things he does are wrong. I think Jake LaMotta, as presented in the movie, is a sociopath. He's incapable of any true human connection and everyone around him suffers. Yet for some reason we're supposed to say "Oh poor Jake LaMotta! He sure got railroaded by the law for fucking inebriated 12-year-olds"


I don't think the audience is supposed to sympathise with Jake LaMotta at all, at least not in the way you are suggesting ("Oh poor Jake LaMotta ... etc."). He certainly is a unlikeable, but aren't many movie characters like, for instance, all gangsters in GoodFellas? You're certainly not supposed to think "Oh, poor Joe Pesci's character - it was certainly unfair for him to be murdered when all he wanted to become is a 'made man'." And jealousy is a feeling many people including me can probably realte to in some way or another.

Having given it some thought, you have convinced me that Raging Bull's LaMotta doesn't really know how he is terrorising those people closest to him. Him being not reflective at all is precisely the point of his character, a man driven by instincts, rage and jealousy. However, I still argue that he recognises at least the consequences of his actions - the alienation from his wife and brother - even if he may either not realise the reasons for them or not being able to do anything about his issues. He is a guilt-ridden character. I may remember the order of scenes a bit inaccurately, but doesn't he deliberately get himself punished in the ring in his last fight against Sugar Ray Robinson, after failing to reconciliate with his brother?


Wed Jul 28, 2010 12:15 pm
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Post Re: 18 Raging Bull 1980
I don't remember the sequencing of the events precisely either since it's been a couple years.

I can see your point about Pesci but even if he were the same character as LaMotta--pure sociopath--it wouldn't be as much of a problem because he's not the focal point of the film. I understand why you disagree (after all, films aren't just about nice people) but I find the narrative far too sympathetic. I had the same problem to an even greater degree with the film Blow, in which

[Reveal] Spoiler:
We're supposed to be really sad that poor Johnny Depp doesn't get to renunite with his daughter because his cowardly friends betrayed him on his "last score." HE'S A FUCKING COCAINE DEALER. HE SHOUDLN'T SPEND TIME WITH HIS DAUGHTER BUT SHOULD INSTEAD ROT IN PRISON

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Wed Jul 28, 2010 4:32 pm
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