The Screening Room
raging bull blu ray

By Bill Desowitz

It's ironic that "Raging Bull" was released on Blu-ray less than two weeks before the Oscars. For many, the debate still rages on about Robert Redford's "Ordinary People" beating out the flashier Martin Scorsese film for the 1980 Best Picture Oscar. While one is a model of well-crafted restraint, the other is about as raw and unrestrained as you can get, which is partly why "Raging Bull" was -- and remains -- so polarizing. It's a little like debating "How Green Was My Valley" winning the Oscar over "Citizen Kane." Both are brilliant, but the artier, more controversial film ultimately transcends the moment in shaping the future. In fact, you could say that "Raging Bull" is the first post-modern biopic in its depiction of the uncompromising and self-destructive Jake La Motta, the middleweight prizefighter of the '40s, unforgettably played by Robert De Niro, who took home the Best Actor Oscar.

"Raging Bull" remains the ultimate Scorsese film about violence and spirituality, and, for many, the best film of the '80s. For others, like the late Pauline Kael, not only did it lack a rooting interest but also deeper artistic resonance. I must confess that it took me a while to warm up to it -- to ultimately understand and appreciate it. But over the years, I've gotten to know more about Scorsese and his operatic films and more about La Motta and the Italian Bronx milieu of the '40s and '50s. It's all about the details, it's all about control, symbolized by the delirious boxing matches as well as the vicious sparring outside the ring. That much I gleaned from an interview with Scorsese in the late '90s, in which he confessed that he had learned not to fret so much about details that were out of his control. And you can definitely see the strong influences of Michael Powell and Vincente Minnelli, two directors very much concerned with characters needing to express their creativity and feeling trapped by their environments.

As far as the details of this hyper-real world, the Blu-ray really brings you closer to the film than ever before at home. The film is constantly in your face -- like La Motta himself -- and it's brilliantly shot in black-and-white by cinematographer Michael Chapman and superbly edited by Thelma Schoonmaker (who won her first Oscar). It's as though we are in this fatalistic boxing ring of life right along with La Motta, Joey (the amazing Joe Pesci), his punching bag of a brother, and Vickie (the mesmerizing Cathy Moriarty), his teenage girlfriend/wife. The black-and-white is crisp and sharp in a very film-like presentation with grain intact and wonderful contrast, and textures really pop. As far as black-and-white on Blu-ray, it stands alongside Warner Home Video's "Casablanca" and Criterion's "The Third Man."

Photos: MGM. All rights reserved.
Blu-ray Quick Glimpse



A gritty, controversial masterpiece of the '80s

Director: Martin Scorsese   

Cast: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

All of the commentaries and featurettes have been ported over from the 2005 SD release (though only the original theatrical trailer is in HD)


Picture: Excellent
Sound: Excellent

Every boxing movie rolled into one

Aspect Ratio (1.85:1)

DTS-MA  5.1

February 10, 2009
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