Raging Bull: Fighting Your Demons

A Technical Marvel

The story presented in Raging Bull is fantastic. However, what elevates this movie beyond an atypical boxing movie to a masterful character study is the production.

The first thing you’ll notice about Raging Bull is that it’s Black and White. While originally shot on 8mm color film, this was changed after discrepancies in the glove colors were found during playback. This wasn’t the only reason the film was shot in black and white though. Scorsese wanted to distinguish it from other movies at the time, and that he did.

Rather than a faded color film front the late 70’s early 80’s, Raging Bull is more akin to a classic drama. It looks like a film from the late 50’s while having the benefit of “modern” technology. It’s hard to describe but the black and white invoke a grimy and visceral feeling. Blood, water, spit and sweat are lost and only appear as a mixed fluid which streams off the boxers, making the matches more stylistically violent than say a Rocky movie. It makes one uneasy and adds to the “dirtiness” of LaMotta’s story.

While many boxing movies of the time had a more pulled back camera, Scorsese wanted the camera to be in the ring, dancing with the boxers. Emotions from both fighters are clearly shown, which adds to the symbolic meaning and weight of each fight. Along with this, outside of the ring were draped four black curtains. These served two purposes. The first was to isolate the fight. Each match feels like it happens in a vacuum, the world fades away and all that’s left is the arena and the fighters. The second was to enhance the use of smoke.

Smoke is used heavily throughout for dramatic purposes. Smoke rises while LaMotta is in the ring, emblematic of his rising emotions which can range from anger to fear. The smoke gives a visual representation of LaMotta’s mental state, and serves to enhance the viewers understanding of what LaMotta feels.

Lastly, the camera can tend to linger and will often switch from regular speed to slow motion. Again, these serve to put us in the emotional state of LaMotta. When the camera lingers it is recognizable that what he perceives is important to him. Whether it be jealousy or infatuation, the camera does the talking rather than the characters.


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