Raging Bull, Martin Scorsese’s 1980 biographical black-and-white sports drama, is undoubtedly a timeless classic. A film of cult folklore, arguably one of the greatest movies ever made.
Scorsese, initially reluctant to take on the project, scoffed when Robert De Niro approached him and asked him to make a film based on the life of boxer Jake LaMotta: “A boxer? I don’t like boxing. Even as a kid, I always thought that boxing was boring. It was something I couldn’t, wouldn’t grasp,” the director once said. That was, of course, until he began to learn more about LaMotta’s story. The one of self-destruction and compulsive rage, anger, sexual jealousy, all of which went on to obliterate his relationship with his family and, notably, his wife.
The film would go on to be nominated for eight Academy Awards which included Best Picture and Best Director. De Niro, the lead in the film, picked up the acclaimed Best Actor and the film was honoured by winning the Best Editing Oscar.
Remarkably, the film developed when De Niro read the autobiography of LaMotta which upon which the film is based on while he was filming on the set of The Godfather Part II. De Niro’s dedication to the role was fascinating, even making frequent visits to the LaMotta’s ex-wife Vicky in order to establish a greater sense of character. Not content with severe emotional research, the actor put himself through intensive boxing training and went on to eventually win two out of three of his amateur boxing matches which were held in Brooklyn, New York.
The film wasn’t without its setbacks, however. Mardik Martin, who was first asked to write the screenplay for the film, saw his work disappoint De Niro and Scorsese. In a bid to get the film right, distributor United Artists brought in the Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader to rewrite the script.
The eventual result became a perfect combination. The script, the sound, the acting, the devotion and the small Scorsese details that took the film to heights which were previously inconceivable. Those details, like film later boxing scenes in a larger ring in order to convey LaMotta’s diminishing stature as a fighter, became synonymous. Or, for example, filming all boxing scenes from outside the ring a bid to add more emotion for the viewer, was considered groundbreaking.
When the real Jake LaMotta eventually saw the movie, he said it made him realise for the first time what a terrible person he had been over the years. Feeling the emotion of the situation, he asked his ex-wife: “Was I really like that?” to which she replied, “You were worse.”
Here, we explore some behind the scenes images of one of the greatest films of all time: