Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Jake LaMotta reportedly quipped that he didn't know the full extent of his own depravity until he watched Raging Bull, Scorsese's 1980 flick based on the boxer's autobiography. It's a testament to Scorsese's genius that he was able to convert this faithful depiction of a thoroughly detestable man into a movie widely considered a classic. Jake LaMotta lacks appeal on any level. Despite the box's assertion that the movie is a "penetrating psychological study," LaMotta comes off as much more of a shallow, one-dimensional jerk than a complex set of neuroses - a problem that screenwriters are supposed to fix with a little liberal tweaking of the real life story. The movie is further damaged by its duration, and we're forced to follow him through his transformation from being an arrogant, violent, and youthful jerk to an old, washed up, fat jerk.
Stories traditionally are about moral becoming. Characters begin as bums, conflicted, or in trouble and end in a better state of reconciliation, understanding, and triumph. Movies which lack a character arc generally do worse at the box office. There's a reason why depressing, static stories are confined to independent theaters or enjoyed by the French because the common non-aesthete doesn't want to be plunged into darkness and then left there.
I understand the appeal of Scorsese's Raging Bull, however. The beauty of its form lends quasi poetic lyricism to even the most perverse pounding inflicted in and out of the ring. Young males can consume the testosterone rush with a side transcendence. Scorsese's skill balances the brutal realism and stylized form with deftness that has earned him a preeminent spot in the history of film. Still, I think it'll be awhile till I pick up a Scorsese flick. Watching The Departed and Raging Bull in short succession is like getting a chair smashed over your head.