The Story (continued)
Raging Bull (1980)
Freeze-Frame Title Over an Image of their Touching Boxing Gloves:
La Motta vs. Middleweight Champion Marcel Cerdan Detroit 1949
(Sixth Fight Scene)
Beautifully choreographed, the film delivers only a few seconds of some of the rounds, graphically presenting in some intense, punishing images the determined and bruising fighter La Motta. The fight is declared a TKO at the start of round 10, and La Motta wins back the title belt. Flashbulbs clink as he acknowledges the accolades of the crowd, although a counterpoint of sad music plays on the soundtrack.
Title card: Pelham Parkway New York 1950
While on the top of the boxing world, Jake obsessively self-destructs in a scene in his living room, where he appears overweight (his beer-gut stomach hangs over his shorts and partially blocks the TV screen) and he stuffs his face with a hero sandwich and a beer. His food binges have replaced sex with his wife. Insanely jealous, he believes that Vickie has been sleeping with Salvy. He even turns on his own brother, convinced that he has been betrayed.
He admonishes Joey for kissing Vickie on the lips when she comes into the house from shopping: "Ain't her cheek good enough for you?...All of a sudden you're like a romance." And then, insanely jealous, he cross-examines Joey for an incident now two years old - the night at the Copacabana when Joey beat up Salvy. Ominous-looking, Jake is intent on having Joey admit that he 'violated' his wife. He misunderstands his brother's loyalty and interprets it as deception [in the process of questioning, Jake violates his own brother-brother relationship]. Joey's refusal to answer the repulsive, perverse questions intensify Jake's suspicions, and make him look guilty:
Jake: I heard some things...Did Salvy f--k Vickie?
Jake: Did Salvy f--k Vickie?
Joey: Now Jack, don't start your s--t...
Jake: Joey I asked ya, didn't I ask ya to keep an eye on her?
Joey: And I did keep an eye on her, yes I did.
Jake: How come you give him a beatin'?
Joey: I told you that. I told you what that was all about. That it had nothin' to do with you. He, he thinks he's a wise guy now.
Jake: Joey, don't lie to me.
Joey: I'm not lying.
Jake: What do I look like to you, huh?
Joey: Hey, I'm your brother. You're supposed to believe me. Don't you trust me?
Jake: No I don't.
Joey: Oh you don't? That's nice.
Jake: I don't trust you when it comes to her. I don't trust nobody. Now tell me what happened.
Joey: I told you exactly what happened. He got out of line, I slapped him around. Tommy straightened it all out, and it's all over.
Jake: Don't you give me that look, Joey. I gotta accept your answer, you know. But I'm tellin' you now, if I hear anything, I swear on mother, I'm gonna kill somebody. I'm gonna kill somebody Joey.
Joey: (rising to his feet) Well, go ahead and kill everybody. You're the tough guy. Go kill people. Kill Vickie. Kill Salvy. Kill Tommy Como. Kill me while you're at it, what do I care? You're killin' yourself the way you eat. You're a fat f--k. Look at ya.
Jake: What d'ya mean? I don't understand. What d'ya mean, kill you? You?
Joey: Me. Kill me. Start here. Kill me first. Do me a f--kin' favor, 'cause you're drivin' me crazy...
Jake: Excuse me, what d'ya mean by 'you,' though?
Joey: So? What does that mean? It don't mean nothin'.
Jake: You don't even know what you meant by 'you.'
Joey: Don't mean nothin'.
Jake: Joey, that meant somethin'. You mentioned Tommy, you mentioned Salvy, you mentioned you. You included 'you' with them. You could have said anybody but you said 'you' and them.
Joey: You really let this girl ruin your life. Look at ya. She really did some job on ya. You know how f--kin' nuts you are? Look what she did to you.
Jake: You f--ked my wife?
Jake: You f--ked my wife?
Joey: (insulted) How could you ask me a question like that? How could you ask me? I'm your brother. You ask me that? Where do you get your balls big enough to ask me that?
Jake: (cooly) Just tell me.
Joey: I'm not answerin' ya. I'm not gonna answer that. It's stupid.
Jake: You're very smart Joey. You give me all these answers, but you ain't givin' me the right answer. I'm askin' ya again. Did you or did you not?
Joey: (frightened but controlled) I'm not gonna answer. That's a sick question, you're a sick f--k, and I'm not that sick that I'm gonna answer it. I'm not tellin' ya anything...I'm not stayin' in this nuthouse with ya. You're a sick bastard. I feel sorry for you, I really do. You know what you should do - try a little more f--kin' and a little less eatin'. You won't have troubles upstairs in your bedroom and you won't take it out on me and everybody else. Do you understand, you f--kin' wacko? You're crackin' up! F--kin' screwball, ya.
Left alone with Vickie, with all his rage bursting and seething to come out, Jake goes upstairs to their bedroom where she is making the bed. As he gently strokes her hair and poses paranoid questions about where she went (she answers that she went to her sister's and to the movies to see Father of the Bride), his questions turn toward the night at the Copa. He pulls on her hair, slaps her, and then asks: "Did you f--k my brother?" She breaks free and locks herself in the bathroom. He keeps asking: "Why did you f--k Joey?" He knocks down the door and physically assaults her again, slapping her as he demands: "Why'd you do it?"
To break the tension and offer him the psycho-sexual relief from the pressure that he desires, Vickie mock-'confesses.' Ironically, she gives him what he wants, but drives him mad by exploiting his male chauvinism:
I f--ked all of them! What do you want me to say?...I f--ked all of them - Tommy, Salvy, your brother! All of them! I sucked your brother's cock, what do you want me to say?...I sucked his cock and everybody else on the f--king street, too. What do you want? You're nothin' but a fat pig, selfish fool! (He viciously slaps her again) His f--king cock is bigger than yours, too!
Emotionally-charged and poisoned by his inner rages, Jake takes off down the residential sidewalk toward his brother's house. There, in front of his family, Jake goes beserk and accuses his loyal and helpful brother of sleeping with his wife. He pulls Joey from the table and cathartically brutalizes him [a sublimation of the sexual act] as an expression of his unresolved feelings for him. The two wives try to pull him off. He slugs Vickie (the first time!) and knocks her out, and then charges out, finding himself later in his living room in front of his television set without a picture. Vickie returns home, goes upstairs, and begins packing to leave. He comes to her and humbly begs for forgiveness: "I'm a bum without you and the kids. Don't go." At her dresser, she embraces him.
Title card: La Motta vs. Dauthuille Detroit 1950
(Seventh Fight Scene)
An abrupt jump cut explodes the silence as a punch hits La Motta in the jaw. In the arena, La Motta wins a close, jaw-breaking contest in the final thirteen seconds of the fifteenth round.
In the corridor of the arena after the fight, Vickie tries to patch things up between the two brothers - but the effort fails. She urges Jake to phone Joey to apologize and "tell him you're sorry. You miss him. He's your brother. You have to talk to him sooner or later." With a big black eye under his hat, Jake takes the receiver in the darkened phone booth, but he cannot speak [and is unable to resolve his emotions for Joey]. Without knowing who is on the other end of the line, Joey lets loose invectives toward the unidentified caller:
Salvy, this ain't funny anymore. Is it you? I know somebody's there. I can hear you breathin'. You listenin'? Your mother sucks f--kin' big f--kin' elephant dicks. You got that?
(Eighth Fight Scene)
In another championship title defense fight, the televised (Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer telecast) fifth bout between La Motta and Sugar Ray Robinson, La Motta looks defeated between rounds. His broken body is sponged off with bloody water from his trainer's pail. Mouthpieces are offered to the fighters like communion wafers. [The images are religiously ritualistic - a metaphorical portrayal of Jake's final defeat and crucifixion.] Far away, Joey and his wife watch the fight on television.
As he loses the climactic battle, he stoically stands against the ropes with his arms helplessly at his side. Determined not to be knocked down, to remain on his feet, to be unconquerable, and to prove his self-worth, he is senselessly battered and attacked with a volley of endless punches, but he endures it all. Blood covers his face, and blood is spattered all over his legs. Flashbulbs explode and hiss like mortar fire. After an eerie pause and silence in the fighting, a final punch sprays La Motta's blood onto the ringsiders in their seats. The referee stops the fight in the 13th round ("the hard-luck round") and Sugar Ray Robinson becomes the new world middle-weight boxing champion.
Defeated by his life-long nemesis, a mangled, beaten-to-a-pulp Jake cries out and taunts his victorious black rival Sugar Ray in his corner:
Hey, Ray, I never went down, man! You never got me down, Ray! You hear me, you never got me down.
As the ring announcer enters and announces the winner by TKO, a massive close-up shows Jake's blood dripping off the ropes.
Title card: Miami 1956
Poolside at the La Motta house in Florida with Vickie and his kids, Jake is now older and fatter, bloated by about fifty additional pounds. He tells a reporter that he has retired from boxing:
It's over for me. Boxing's over for me. I'm through. I'm tired of worryin' about weight all the time. That's all I used to think about was weight, weight, weight. After a while, you know, you realize other things in life. I mean, I'm very grateful. Boxing's been good to me: I've got a nice house, I've got three great kids, I've got a wonderful, beautiful wife - what more could I ask for?
Spent and used up, Jake owns a seedy nightclub on Collins Avenue that he has dubbed "Jake La Motta's": "It's a bar, a package store, everything." After a drumroll and the playing of the "Gillette Blue Blades" theme song, Jake takes the spotlight and the microphone in the lounge, fancying himself as a stand-up comedian with rambling, unfunny one-liners and numerous obscenities. With self-deprecating, pitiable, and partially hostile humor peppered with sexist rude jokes, he welcomes the crowd in his disjointed, clumsy nightclub act: "I haven't seen so many losers since my last fight at Madison Square Garden." When a cocktail waitress brings him a drink on stage, he describes her as:
...that's the kind of girl that you want to bring home to your father - especially if he's a degenerate.
He quickly changes the subject after the foul joke:
Ah, seriously folks, it's a thrill to be standing here before you wonderful people tonight. Well, in fact, it's a thrill to be standing.
Then, he announces that he will be celebrating his 11th wedding anniversary with his wife Vickie, and then is reminded of a joke that reflects his continuing psycho-sexual anxieties - of two male friends who share one woman:
That reminds me of two friends of mines. One was married, one was single. The married guy tells the single guy: 'Oh, what's the matter with you? What's the matter with you? Look at me. And look at you. And look at me. And look at you. (Laughter) Let me get on with it. When I come home at night, my wife's at the door with a tall drink in her hand. And she gives me a nice hot bath. Then she gives me a nice rub-down. Then she makes passionate love to me. Then she makes me a nice dinner. What more could you ask for? You oughta try that.' The other friend says: 'Hey, that sounds great. When does your wife get home?'
Then, the nightclub comic repeats the verse that was being rehearsed in the film's opening sequence.
At a table where he is introduced to State's Attorney Bronson and his wife (spilling a drink down her lap when he takes liberties with her), he rudely jokes about sharing Vickie, revealing his whole life's distrust about men with his wife:
What do ya think, I'm gonna bring her around here and let you bums get involved with her?
At the bar after his vulgar but mesmerizing on-stage performance, he permits two under-age women to give him sophisticated kisses to 'prove' that they're twenty-one so that they can order alcohol: "I know what a twenty-one-year old kisses like." He pours champagne into five stacked glasses, even after hearing that Vickie is outside waiting for him. Outside in the light of the early morning as she sits in a waiting Cadillac with the car running and the window only slightly cracked open, she tells him that she will be leaving him, and will take custody of the children: "Look, Jake, I got a lawyer, we're gettin' a divorce. I'm gettin' custody of the kids...I already made up my mind. I'm leavin'. That's it. The kids are gonna be with me. And if you show your face around, I'm gonna call the cops on you, all right?"
Now separated from his wife, La Motta is awakened in the next scene by deputies from the DA's office, and arrested on a morals charge for soliciting clients with prostitutes in his nightclub - he allegedly allowed an underage fourteen-year-old (one of the girls professing to be twenty-one years old) into the club to pimp - he "introduced her to some men." La Motta claims that he is an innocent middleman:
I introduce a lot of people to a lot of people. Why'd you tell me I introduced her to men? (He points at one of the deputies) I introduced him to men - but I don't say nothin'.
After being taken "downtown" and then let out on bail, he goes to Vickie in their home and asks for permission to "pick up one thing" - his championship belt from the mantle (propped up in front of the picture of the two brothers 'playing' at boxing). With $10,000 in bribes, he has been told by his lawyer that he can get the case dropped. He noisily hammers the jewels from the belt, knocking dishes from the cupboard. At the jewelers, Jake refuses an offer of $1,500 for the jewels (without the belt). When he can't raise the money, he is detained in the Florida stockade.
Title card: Dade County Stockade Florida 1957
Jake is wrestled into a jail cell like the animalistic 'Bronx bull' he has always been compared to. He slams his head, fists, and then his arms into the cinder-block cell wall - his shadow-boxing with his own self brings pain and suffering and a new self-awareness. [Reduced to nothing, ultimately beaten ("down" in boxing terms) and losing everything, and sacrificed for his own sins, Jake's soul has a redemptive religious/spiritual awakening.] He cries out over and over again about his pathetically damaged, alienated life. He wails pathetically:
Why? Why? Why?...Why'd you do it? Why? You're so stupid...I'm not an animal. Why do you treat me like this? I'm not so bad.
Title card: New York City 1958
Voice-over from the previous scene is a joke that Jake tells as a stand-up comedian in a nightclub "comeback" at the Carnevale Lounge of the Hotel Markwell in New York City:
Guy comes home, finds his wife in bed with another guy. The wife says, 'Look who's here. Big mouth. Now the whole neighborhood'll know.'
Now out of jail, he introduces strippers, such as "Emma 48s" in the seedy New York Bar. In a chance meeting outside the Hotel, he spots Joey across the street and catches up with him in a parking garage. Now mellowed with age, Jake hopes for a reconciliation but Joey ignores him:
C'mon, be friends. C'mon. You're my brother. Be friends.
La Motta begins to find redemption from his primeval brutality. While hugging, embracing, petting, and kissing his brother, Jake buries his head in Joey's neck, and implores Joey to return his love. He affectionately gives him an Italian-American greeting:
Kiss me. Give me a kiss...Just kiss me. C'mon, c'mon, c'mon.
In the film's final scene, a return to the scene at the film's opening, a sandwich-board sign (at the Barbizon Plaza Theatre) announces La Motta's nightclub act - a series of dramatic readings - in 1964:
An Evening with Jake La Motta
featuring the works
Close-up images fill the screen, as beer-bellied, swollen-bodied Jake rehearses his verbal recitations from great authors in his seedy, backstage dressing room. The room has a bare lightbulb with chain-link pullswitch, a wall plate light switch, a payphone with a graffiti-covered wall with phone numbers, and dangling wooden and wire hangers on a coat rack. Jake is seated at a mirror, reflecting his own image. He is dressed in his tuxedo and shirt (unbuttoned at the top) and brandishes a cigar.
He speaks about the famous "I coulda been a contender" scene in On the Waterfront (1954), a scene that has indirect parallels to his own boxing career. Jake speaks of the Marlon Brando / Terry Malloy role of "an up-and-comer who's now a down-and-outer" who confronts his brother Charley, "a small-time racket guy," with intellectual and emotional honesty in a lament delivered in the back seat of a taxicab. In a similar way, Jake realizes how his brother Joey played a crucial role in his own life.
In a wooden, flat, stiff manner without emotion or passion, he recites the lines - by rote - while staring at himself in the mirror [the scene recalls the mirror scene from Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), with a loner talking to himself in a mirror]. The words of regret are far from expressing his own torturous struggles, actions, experiences, defeats and degradations toward self-realization and redemption that were presented in the observed images and patterns of the film:
It wasn't him, Charley. It was you. You remember that night at the Garden you came down in my dressing room and you said, 'Kid, this ain't your night; we're going for the price on Wilson?' 'remember that? 'This ain't your night?' My night. I could've taken Wilson apart that night. So what happens? He gets a title shot outdoors in the ballpark, and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palookaville. I was never no good after that night, Charley. It was like a peak you reach, and then it's downhill. It was you, Charley. You was my brother. You should've looked out for me a little bit. You should've looked out for me just a little bit. You should've taken care of me just a little bit instead o' making me take them dives for the short-end money. You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody instead of a bum, which is what I am. Let's face it. It was you, Charley. It was you, Charley.
A stagehand [director Martin Scorsese in a brief cameo, and whose shoulder is visible in the mirror] announces that Jake has five minutes. He fastens his tie, and sends himself off with shadow-boxing into the entertainment arena: "Go get 'em, champ." As he grunts off-screen while punching make-believe opponents, the film's final shot closes on the empty mirror as he leaves, mumbling:
I'm the boss, I'm the boss, I'm the boss, I'm the boss, I'm the boss...(I'm the) boss, boss, boss, boss, boss, boss.
The final title commemorates Jake's "once I was blind and now I can see" salvation and new understanding:
So, for the second time, [the Pharisees]
summoned the man who had been blind and said:
"Speak the truth before God.
We know this fellow is a sinner."
"Whether or not he is a sinner, I do not know,"
the man replied.
"All I know is this:
once I was blind and now I can see."
John IX. 24-26
the New English Bible
Remembering Haig P. Manoogian, teacher.
May 23, 1916 - May 26, 1980.
With Love and resolution, Marty.
[Director Martin Scorsese's dedication to his NYU film teacher.]
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AMC Filmcritic's Review of Raging Bull