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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Surround
  Subtitles
    English
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Featurette - Jake's Jokes
  • Photo gallery
  • Booklet
  • Documentaries - The Bronx Bull - An Introduction to Raging Bull

Raging Bull - 20th Anniversary Edition

MGM/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 129 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
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Raging Bull is a boxing film right? BZZT! Wrong. Whilst the film revolves around the life of Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro), whose trade happens to be boxing, the actual "sport" takes a backseat to what is in actual fact an incredible warts and all - with even more warts - study of a human being and his many, many overwhelming insecurities, and their effects on those around him.

Starting off in The Bronx of 1940s New York, the film follows the rise, fall and attempted redemption of a seriously disturbed man through a period of around 25 years. A volatile cocktail of arrogance, insecurity, jealousy, uncontrollable rage and extremely violent tendencies, La Motta, whilst finding success in the ring - even becoming the middleweight champion of the world for a brief time - manages to alienate all those around him who actually (somehow) seem to care for him.

After his first wife can take no more and leaves him, he becomes smitten with a street smart, blonde bombshell named Vickie (Cathy Moriarty). All of 15 years old, but seemingly savvy way beyond her years, they eventually marry and continue their rollercoaster relationship. Often jealously accusing Vickie of having affairs without any proof whatsoever, his suspicions based solely upon his own endless roll-call of insecurities, seemingly as if his line of thinking is "well if she likes me she canít be all I held her up to be", it is as if he actually seeks some sort of penance for his evil nature and sheer lack of the good side of humanity by getting the living pulp beaten out of him in the ring.

Eschewing local mafia connections, not always to his benefit, La Motta is managed by his brother Joey (Joe Pesci). Another fiery relationship and outlet for Jake's jealousy, after achieving much success together La Motta even eventually manages to alienate his own flesh and blood. Once his flash in the pan career has waned, and Vickie has finally had the good sense to leave him, we remain along for the ride until the '60s, where La Motta becomes quite the sad, pathetic creature eking a living as a stand-up 'comedian', emcee and by reciting scenes from famous literature and movies - his take on Brando's classic On the Waterfront "I coulda been a contender" monologue being a rather poignant example.

More like a documentary than a movie, in no small part due to the incredible production design and obvious fanatical attention to detail in the shooting and editing of most every single scene, it isnít hard to fathom why Raging Bull is held up as a classic example of modern day cinema. Robert De Niro went through the ringer for this role. He spent a year in training with La Motta, even entering (and winning) actual fights, and also famously gained over 50 pounds for the later scenes in the movie. And it all shows, he literally becomes the fighter in one of the grittiest portrayals of any character ever witnessed on film - it's hard to imagine the likes of your Leo's or Tom's sacrificing so much for a film role. He won a 'Best Actor' Oscar for this, in what surely was one of the best cases of somebody deserving actually receiving the accolade.

De Niro doesnít carry the film on his own though. The supporting role from Joe Pesci, who had to be talked into taking the part as he was intending to give up films in favour of a musical act with his brother, provides a brilliant sparring partner for Jake, in fact many of the scenes featuring the two were improvised for added realism, often to great effect. Cathy Moriarty as Vickie too must be singled out, for somebody who was only 19 at the time to be able to carry off such a challenging role, and to so convincingly portray a range from a girl of 15 to a woman in her thirties was a remarkable feat.

Be it the good side of human nature or the absolute worst, Martin Scorsese has an uncanny knack of imbuing all of his films with an emotional depth that others are simply unable to attain, and this is easily one of the best examples of this trait. Helped by a script based on La Motta's autobiography by writers Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) and Mardik Martin (Mean Streets), it is hard to imagine this tale having the impact it does had it been placed in anybody else's hands. The fact that the script had to be "niced up" before the studio would give the green light canít help but leave you wondering what else could have been in store had the un-tweaked version ever been made.

  Video
Contract

Straight up it must be said that this transfer wonít be winning any title belts in a hurry. A straight, non-anamorphic 1.85:1 affair, it is riddled with numerous speckles and other artefacts throughout its duration, and is remarkably grainy at times, admittedly seemingly sometimes by intent.

This being said, what is left still looks remarkably striking at times, perhaps in no small part to most all of it being shot in black and white, a medium which almost perversely shows off just how amazing DVD can make a picture look when handled well, which it has been here. I say "most all" back there as a small section midway through the film showing some of La Motta's home movies is rendered in rather washed-out colour - a quite jarring, but undoubtedly effective, inclusion. Oh, and the film's title comes up in red at the beginning, too.

The layer change is noticeable, but not too distracting in the big scheme of things.

  Audio
Contract

For a special anniversary release of what is such a classic film I donít think it was too unreasonable to have expected some magical boffin work to have been bestowed upon Raging Bull. Sadly though it hasnít, we just get the same standard Dolby Surround sound that the first release of the disc came with - but more on that later...

It still manages to work though, almost adding an appropriately claustrophobic air to a film that is in itself rather claustrophobic. Dialogue is a little difficult to discern in some of the busier scenes, however once again this could easily have been Scorsese's intent - however I donít think I'm particularly qualified to put myself in his mind, so I wonít. Surround action is at a minimum, however the quite incredible sound work, such as fight scenes using squished vegetables for punch sounds and animal noises for breathing, adds to the film no end - in fact most of the specially produced sound effects tapes were apparently destroyed afterwards so nobody else would be tempted to thieve them for their own work!

The musical soundtrack consists predominantly of works by the Italian composer Pietro Mascagni, chosen by Scorsese himself in what, in short, was a stroke of genius. Generally amazing, emotional minor-chord affairs, they suit what is onscreen as if they were composed especially for this movie, punctuating the director's clever use of silence and sound effects in just the right places to add to the overall emotional cocktail of the film no end.

  Extras
Contract

Disc one's static and silent menu leads us to a trailer, and that's it. Just over two minutes in length, at ratio of around 1.85:1 it manages to sum up the starkness of the feature surprisingly well. It is a little gritty, both visually and sonically, but I have witnessed much worse examples on more recent films.

Disc two is where the bonus action is - well, a little bit at least. We getÖ

Featurette - The Bronx Bull - An introduction to Raging Bull: A 27-minute long special made recently, once getting past the comments of some rather self-important film critics, there's some wonderful stuff to be had here. There is interview footage with the real Jake La Motta today, in all his slurry, punch drunk, squishy-nosed "glory". Whilst he seems to have mellowed a bit with age, it was rather disturbing to discover that he thought he was actually worse in life than the film portrayed him - kind of a hard thing to imagine, but anyway. The other utterly fascinating inclusion is a lot of time spent with the film's Oscar-winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker. She guides us through certain scenes giving incredible insights into the creative processes behind them, such as the efforts put into the fight choreography (six weeks were spent on the filming of what, in the end, only served as a small part of the entire film), lighting techniques for filming in black and white and even pointing out some of the scenes that were heavily based on improvisation by De Niro and Pesci - in all a fascinating little documentary.

Jake's Jokes: Around six minutes of a latter day La Motta reciting some of the jokes from his post-boxing stand-up/emceeing career. Nothing more than groan inducing, and a little hard to understand at times due to his slurred speech, this is definitely worth a spin more for an example of how as a comedian he made a great boxer rather than for anything to add to the down-the-pub gag armoury - unless you're into mother-in-law and wife jokes, of course. Playable as a whole or individually, each one is punctuated by a scene from the film featuring De Niro declaring "That's entertainment".

Easter Egg 1 - Photo gallery: OK, this disc has a total of two bonus features listed on the menu, so why the Easter eggs? Perhaps if they actually involved chocky in some way I'd be keener about their presence, but as it stands the whole point of them really is becoming lost. Anyway, following a rather loud boxing bell, the first of two is a simple gallery of six photos of La Motta, presented with rather large thumbnails, from whence once one is selected a bigger version pops up on screen.

Easter Egg 2 - Movietone News, Middleweight Champ Retains Title: DING! DING! Just under a minute, in surprisingly good shape and with one of those gloriously camp hyper-plumb-in-the-mouth voiceovers, this is footage of a real fight between Jake and Laurent Dauthuille, where a seemingly down for the count La Motta miraculously won by knockout with a mere 13 seconds to spare.

Needless to say with the limited menu on this second disc both Easter eggs are an absolute doddle to trip over.

  Overall  
Contract

Whilst Raging Bull is undeniably an incredible movie, it isn't really a particularly enjoyable one. Story-wise it is grim and often times highly disturbing, with De Niro's incredible portrayal of La Motta's train wreck of emotions running roughshod over all that surround him. Whereas personally I have trouble fathoming the appeal of boxing at all, at least it is in a vaguely controlled environment, whereas the many cringe-worthy depictions here of extreme domestic violence and similar I just cannot understand - and would never want to - full stop. However, as a shining example of a totally non-Hollywood approach to cinema, featuring some absolutely masterful cinematography, editing, score-use and acting, you would be hard-pressed to find anything more amazing than this.

It seems a curious decision to have made this a two-disc set, when the second shiny round thing only features around 35 minutes of actual program. However I think the explanation may lie in that it is more of a marketing person's idea of how to shift some more units rather than a truly genuine attempt at a justice-serving re-release of the film, as the first disc is the same one that has been floating around for a while now. I guess it was just easier to make a second disc and plop it in a double case than to master a completely new single one. Still, brevity and all, the bonus disc is worth it for the fabulous featurette alone, another of those that will have cinema buffs absolutely engrossed - and probably upset at its lack of length.

This sure as anything ain't no Rocky. But if it's a cinematic tour de force, feel bad flick you're after, Raging Bull may be just the ticketÖ


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      And I quote...
    "Undeniably an incredible movie, just not really a particularly enjoyable one..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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