Friday Editor’s Pick: Raging Bull (1980)

by on December 5, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Fri Dec 9 at 7:00 at Museum of the Moving Image [Program & Tix]


The “See It Big!” series at MOMI (curated by Reverse Shot editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert) continues to offer prize viewing opportunities, including this recently restored print. As Amy Taubin notes of Raging Bull, “Its sculptural weight can only be appreciated on the big screen.”


Taubin continues for the Village Voice:

An anti-blockbuster about a guy who busts blocks legally for a living, Raging Bull makes pain the measure of manhood. Not only pain inflicted, but pain endured. As unsparing of its audience as its protagonist is of his opponents, his family, and himself, Martin Scorsese’s biopic of former middleweight champ Jake LaMotta alternates scenes of violence at home and violence in the ring. The film is brutal but also austere, like one of Richard Serra’s massive steel sculptures.


From the first shot in Raging Bull of a nearly disembodied Robert De Niro, alone in the ring, jogging in slo-mo, his face obscured by the hood of his robe, like a monk in Rossellini’s The Little Flowers of St. Francis, you know that for Scorsese, this is the big one, the title fight, and it’s only art that’s at stake. The sense of risk is palpable and the payoff is exhilarating. There’s not a single pulled or wasted punch. The film is a perfect match of form and content.


Despite an initial flurry of rabbit punches (most of them from the Kael wing of the critical establishment), Raging Bull is now treasured as an American masterwork, a fusion of Hollywood genre with personal vision couched in images and sounds that are kinetic and visceral, and closer to poetry than pulp.

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