A Look Behind the Scenes of 'Raging Bull'

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“That’s Entertainment!”

So declares the obese ex-boxing champ Jake LaMotta in a nightclub’s dingy dressing room before an evening of dramatic recitations. (There was no Netflix back in 1964, people were hard up for what to watch.) We then flash to over 20 years earlier, when LaMotta was on the rise to become the winner of the middleweight title. Raging Bull, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro’s essential collaboration from 1980, bobs and weaves around the conventions of a traditional sports film. It isn’t a boxing movie, it’s a movie about a boxer – one whose greatest fights are against himself. Over three decades since the movie’s release, its reputation as one of the most extraordinary works in American cinema continues to grow.

IN THIS CORNER

Raging Bull was Robert De Niro’s passion project, and it took him years to convince his friend, director Martin Scorsese, to make the film. He read Jake LaMotta’s autobiography during the production of The Godfather Part II, in 1973 or 74. While the book is hardly a masterpiece, De Niro saw in it a rich character: a belligerent and insecure beast that took all his psycho-sexual demons into the boxing ring until he eventually reached rock bottom. (Whether or not he ever found redemption remains up to interpretation.)

Scorsese never cared for sports, and especially not boxing, claiming that what little he’d seen on television wasn’t very visual. But after the great director’s personal problems with drug addiction led to a collapse (exacerbated by asthma and a trip to the high altitude Telluride Film Festival in 1978), he realized, from his hospital bed, that he and “Bob” were going to make this their next project. (Raging Bull would be their fourth collaboration out of an eventual nine.)

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