Film Analysis from a Design Perspective: Reading Raging Bull
Elements of Design
The focus of this paper is a pivotal scene from the film Raging Bull, starring Robert DeNiro as real life middleweight boxer, Jake La Motta. Jake's emotional status is reflected in multiple aspects of the film production, such as his physique and costuming, the cinematography, the editing, and the direction. Film communicates the narrative's physical reality and psychological reality with meticulous attention and applied creativity to all of the aspects of filmmaking. The efficacy and condensation of the communicative ability of film is one of the numerous reasons why humans have loved the cinema for over a century. The paper analyzes the scene wherein Jake is locked in prison from a design perspective.
Film Analysis from a Design Perspective: Reading Raging Bull
On December 19, 1980, Raging Bull, directed by Martin Scorcese, was released to the international public. The feature film is shot in black and white, giving it a classical aesthetic and historical feel. The film, after all, is based on actual events in the life of Jake La Motta, a moderately successful middleweight boxer in the 1940s and 1950s. The film is a story of a sadomasochist boxer who rises to the top of the middleweight boxing world and falls sharply and hard. It is a story of how an imperfect man turns his frustrations and violent tendencies to a middleweight boxing championship during the World War II era. La Motta hails from the Bronx, a borough in New York City with a reputation for being a rough part of town. The screenplay is an adaptation of the book written by La Motta as a limited autobiography. The focus of analysis in this paper is of Jake's entrance into his prison cell for the first time. The paper asserts that with the assistance of multiple aspects of the film production, the scene is a success, which likely contributed to the selection of Robert DeNiro as the winner of the Academy Award for Best Actor in this film.
Jake La Motta is a talented boxer when the story opens. He is also a man with a number of emotional problems. Jake's nickname is "The Bronx Bull" and he is often described by other characters in the film, including himself, as being thick or bull-headed. Jake is insecure, has a huge ego, and is often able to take the frustrations in his life and channel his aggression into his matches turning them into wins. It is when the problems Jake has created for himself get out of hand and become substantially more than he can handle, does he lose his ability to fight. Jake loses the will to win. His life falls to shambles. Eventually, after disgracefully retiring from boxing, Jake relocates his family to Miami and opens a nightclub. One night Jake allows an underage girl to consume alcohol in his club; the police arrest Jake and a judge sentences him to time in prison. The scene of Jake La Motta's arrival into prison and literal placement into his cell for the first time is the scene upon which this paper concentrates.
This is an important moment that occurs in Jake's character arc after he is locked up in his cell. The guards have dragged him with great force into the cell. After they lock him in, he shouts profanities and insults about their mothers. When the moment of realization sinks in, Jake weeps. He sobs and wails, talking only to himself. The sound of Jake smashing his head on the wall is nauseating -- the audience can hear clearly and knows Jake is really hurting himself. After brutalizing himself the way he would brutalize an opponent in the ring during his prime, Jake sits on his bed in the darkness crying. There is one brief moment when Jake realizes his predicament is his own fault and takes responsibility for it. He repeatedly cries out "Why?" He calls himself stupid. He realizes that no one else put him there except him. In the chapter, "Subtext in Personal Expression" in Becoming Film Literate, Raging Bull is the filmic example. The LoBrutto explains the significance of this pivotal and communicative scene:
"When he is arrested and dragged into isolation in a Florida prison, La Motta pays his penance by banging his head repeatedly into a concrete wall, pounding it with fury as he emotionally collapses into tears chanting, 'I am not an animal.' This is the bottom. Jake begins the long road to redemption. To repent for one's sins is a centerpiece of Catholic theology. Redemption can be attained by prayer and devotion, but for Scorsese the sins of life must be exorcised, not just spiritually but physically. Jake's punishment in the ring was linked to a cycle of anger that destroyed everything that was good in his life -- his reputation, wife, brother, and the pride of his individuality. Jake fights as a man at war with himself. His insane jealousy and suicidal attitude bring more sins and more pain, and leave him spiritually bankrupt. (LoBrutto, 2005,-Page 240)
It is the moment in the film where Jake is exactly where he belongs and exactly where he would have ended up with or without boxing. Just as quickly as the moment washes over him, it washes away, and Jake goes into denial. He repeats and sobs, "They call me an animal. I'm not an animal. It's not my fault. I'm not that bad. I'm not that guy."
The director of this film is Martin Scorcese. Martin Scorcese is a film legend. The director of a film is in charge of all aspects of film production. The director is the leader of the cast, crew, and especially the primary production team. The only crewmember that may have a greater say than the director is the executive producer. The director is responsible for the aesthetics, style, and overall execution of the script into the film. The director is responsible for the style of production and overall artistic vision. Though each department in a film crew has a specialized function, the director oversees and creates every aspect of the film. The director has the right to provide input on the script, editing, cinematography, storyboarding, costuming, and everything else involved in the production. The director is also responsible for maintaining the morale and spirit of the crew. The director sets the emotional tone on the set. The director leads by example. The director is the leader of the entire production; there is no production without a director. Directors must be creative, have wide skill sets and knowledge bases, be effective communicators, be technically minded, and be a strong leader because the position of director is a demanding management role.
The production designer of this film is Gene Rudolf. The production designer designs all of the sets. The production designer works very closely with the director, producers, and the cinematographer regarding the physical spaces where the sets are built or the locations outside of the production studio. This is a very detail oriented job. The set reveals a great deal of information about the characters within it. The shape and layout of the space itself as well as all of the physical objects on every set are the responsibility of the production designer. Many times in films, this position is also called the art director. In films with large crews and large budgets, there may be a production designer and an art director, where production designer would be the superior position in the crew hierarchy. In those cases, the production designer would strictly design spaces while the art director would have a more hands on job by actually shopping for objects and putting all the elements of the set together. This is another principle production position.
The film is shot in black and white; therefore there is already an increase amount of contrast to the lighting scheme. The lighting creates stark disparities reflecting the black and whiteness of Jake's predicament. The film is in black and white and Jake's situation is black and white: he was wrong; he got caught; he is in prison. There is no gray or in-between. The lighting underscores this sentiment. At the top of the scene, Jake is in the bright light. As he hurts himself is partially obscured. By the end of the scene as he sits on the bed crying, his body is completely obscured by darkness and the only evidence of his existence is his voice, like a sad ghost doomed to stay on Earth and never rest. The scene is one of catharsis and thus is quite dramatic, as is the high key lighting used. Lighting is critical in every film, and Raging Bull is no different. The lighting in the film both tells its own story and supports the primary narrative.
Costuming tells as much about a character as wardrobes reveals about real people. Costume can be used for emphasis, contrast, and exposition. Hairstyle…