Friday, September 4, 2015

Raging Bull

Raging Bull
seen @ Central Park Conservancy Film Festival, Central Park, New York NY

You certainly don't need me to tell you how great an actor Robert De Niro is, but I haven't talked about him in detail here, so indulge me for a little bit. I don't remember the first movie I saw him in. Might've been The Untouchables. Might've been Midnight Run. Not sure which. I watched both of those movies on cable quite a bit as a kid. The big ones - Taxi Driver, Godfather 2, Mean Streets, and today's subject, Raging Bull - didn't come until later.

Is it possible we take physical transformations in actors for granted these days? Whether it's Christian Bale getting super-skinny for one movie and fat for another, or Nicole Kidman wearing a fake nose or Charlize Theron getting ugly, we may appreciate and celebrate actors who go the extra mile for a role, but it's fair to say that it's not as unusual anymore. It's hardly a new practice - Lon Chaney Sr. was probably the originator for this sort of thing in Hollywood movies - but you look at a movie like Bull and you see De Niro go from being a physically fit boxer in his prime to being fat and bloated in middle age and it still has the ability to amaze after all these years.

One can't talk about De Niro without talking about Martin Scorsese, and indeed, it's remarkable how time and again, the director has been able to summon personifications of the reckless, out-of-control human id in the form of De Niro, his greatest collaborator. De Niro's Jake LaMotta is possessive, ill-tempered and full of himself sometimes, but he's different from the psychotic Travis Bickle in Taxi or the delusional Rupert Pupkin in King of Comedy. And yet the essential De Niro is recognizable from role to role. He's not like, say, Johnny Depp, who can disappear into a role, but that's okay. It's what makes him De Niro.

De Niro has gotten some flack in recent years for appearing in movies that would seem to be beneath him, but honestly, how many roles like Jake LaMotta are out there? More to the point, how many movies with characters like Jake LaMotta are being made by Hollywood these days? Not that the past fifteen years have been a total wasteland: of the ones I've seen, the original Meet the Parents was funny (can't speak for the sequels); and he was quite good in Silver Linings Playbook. Plus he had that cameo in American Hustle.

Bull looks like an Old Hollywood film, and not just because it's in black and white. Certain camera movements and compositions Scorsese makes throughout the film give it an old-school kind of feel to it. I've thought about whether or not Scorsese has an identifiable visual style. I think he does, but it's hard for me to pin down exactly. Bull looks different from GoodFellas, which looks different from The Wolf of Wall Street, but I think they all "feel" like his films to a certain extent. I dunno. I'd have to look at a bunch of his films all in a row to describe it better.

I saw Bull with John and Sue in Central Park. I had been there for movies before, but I had forgotten how much pre-show activity there was. There was a trivia contest, and some annoying local TV sports newscaster, all of which I could've done without. There was someone there from the Museum of the Moving Image, however. That wasn't so bad. Anything to promote Queens, after all.


  1. You make very valid point about actors and roles. Audiences and critics simply cannot blame actors for not choosing roles that don't exist. After all, a guy's gotta work.

  2. I remember hearing that talk as far back as my video retail days in the early 2000s, and I was part of it too, to be honest. The realities of the industry have been made clearer to me since then.


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