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The Long and Short of It

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On the April 7 episode of her podcast With Friends Like These, journalist Ana Marie Cox and her guest, author and political commentator Thomas Frank (What’s the Matter with Kansas?), briefly digressed in their conversation to talk about Donald Trump’s sartorial habit of wearing his ties so long that he has to Scotch-tape the narrow end that isn’t long enough to go through the loop in back.1

That’s the how of the Scotch tape, but it doesn’t address the why of Trump wearing his ties so long.

Naturally, I point to writer-director David Mamet’s 2000 comedy State and Main, in which drunken town doctor and bow-tie aficionado Doc Wilson (Michael Higgins) promotes the following thesis to dissuade someone from taking his advice:

It’s the truth that you should never trust anybody wears a bow tie. Cravat’s s’posed to point down to accentuate the genitals. Why’d you wanna trust somebody’s tie points out to accentuate his ears?

 
I mean, think about it: This is a man who attempts to dominate everyone he meets with a weird, jerky alpha-male handshake that puts his counterpart off balance and yanks him toward Trump, in whose mind this practice — what? makes him appear stronger than the other guy? This flabby asshole who eats KFC on his private jet and doesn’t get any exercise aside from walking to and from his golf cart after hitting a 7-iron shot on the fairway? He’s precisely the kind of asshole who would want your eyes drawn toward his junk.

So yeah: Good luck keeping that thought out of your head next time you look at Trump’s necktie. Go with God.
 
 
 
 
 
1 It’s also notable that the ties Trump wears in all likelihood come from his own eponymous menswear line. I mean, they’re certainly not bespoke, but it’s his name on the back of each one. So why does this couturier, this clothes horse, this man of fashion not have his own personal neckties customized with the loop stitched a few inches higher to accommodate his preference for unwieldy length?

Written by Shepcat

April 12, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Movies, Politics

Tagged with

Jon Polito 1950-2016

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Allow me to share with you again one of my top three all-time L.A. memories:

On Tuesday, January 6, 1998, I attended the New Beverly Cinema’s 9:25 p.m. screening of Miller’s Crossing, Joel and Ethan Coen’s essential 1990 entry in the gangster genre.

I had scouted out my closest-as-possible-to-dead-center seat and was slumped down, settling in, waiting for the movie to start. And who should walk in and sit down in the next row, directly in front of me? Jon Polito, who plays Johnny Caspar, the Italian mob boss and foil to Irish mobsters Gabriel Byrne and Albert Finney in the movie I am there to see.

By the standards of the New Beverly — which at that time and for some time afterward was rundown and a little seedy, with squeaky, rattily upholstered seats and dim lighting that hid any number of other flaws and scars — Polito was impossibly elegant. He wore pressed trousers and a blazer with an open-collar shirt and looked as though he may have come over from a party, although it was such a comfortable look on him that — who knows? — probably he was just that casually elegant in everyday life.

I was a fan, not just of his work with the Coens but also his role as Det. Steve Crosetti on Homicide. And yet I couldn’t work up the nerve to say anything to him — even though he was right there. But a braver audience member approached to say hello and give voice to the question burning in all our minds: “What are you doing here?”

Polito replied that hadn’t seen the movie in years and noticed it was playing at the New Beverly, so he came down to check it out. Just that simple.

And so it was that I, who love character actors, had my most meta experience in a lifetime at the movies, sitting behind one of the best, who laughed loudest at some of his own lines, as if he had forgotten what a great part the Coens had written for him.

We lost Jon Polito yesterday. And thus endeth our lesson in — hell, I ain’t embarrassed to use the word — ethics.

Jon_Polito

Written by Shepcat

September 2, 2016 at 10:59 am

(Blurry) Pictures at an Exhibition

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Date: Sunday, October 18, 2015
Time: 5:20 p.m. screening
Film: Crimson Peak in 2D
Location: Theater 11, AMC Kent Station, Kent, WA

I would imagine that the average moviegoer either doesn’t notice or simply doesn’t complain as often as they should when the movie they have paid to see on the big screen is less vivid than what they’d see at home on their own TV.

I am not the average moviegoer. I used to be in pictures, as they say, and this technological trend toward projection compromised by the “advancements” made in 3D exhibition troubles me on behalf of both the audience, who pays its hard-earned money for a cinematic experience they can’t get at home, and the artists, who spend thousands of hours poring over every aspect of their films to make that experience meaningful.

Some evenings you gamble and are pleasantly surprised. Other evenings you just know, the moment you sit down, that the projection is going to be less than stellar.

This particular evening fell into the latter category. We could tell during the trailers that the Sony 4K projection was too dim by half, and sure enough, when I looked over my shoulder at the projection booth, I saw two projected images on the glass, one stacked atop the other. Meaning that the 2D movie we paid to see was being projected on a 3D-equipped system that had not had — or, more likely, could not have — its polarization deactivated for the advertised 2D screening.

This was all too evident during an early master shot in Crimson Peak, a daytime exterior of Victorian-era Buffalo, New York. Simply stated, a scene shot in broad daylight should be vivid with detail, but when even a scene such as this looks dingy and gray, the problem lies in the projection, and it’s only going to get worse when the action moves indoors.1

Just because Crimson Peak is a gothic romance in the Hammer Films tradition doesn’t mean everything in it is meant to be dark. Guillermo Del Toro is a craftsman who has thoughtfully and meticulously layered exquisite details into this film. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen lighted every shot in the film very specifically so that certain of those details stand out and others recede at the right moments, so that the faces of the actors can be seen, so that the work of production designers and set dressers and costumers and FX artists is spotlighted, as it were, for optimal effect from one moment to the next. All of that is lost in a badly projected screening.

We left the screening about 10 minutes into the picture, and our money was courteously refunded to us by the friendly, if not apparently knowledgeable, AMC theater staff.2 In point of fact, AMC lost money on us twice Sunday, as we had originally intended to take in a double feature of Crimson Peak and Ridley Scott’s The Martian. However, our experience with the former discouraged us from sticking around for the latter.

Instead we drove across town for a 7:40 p.m. screening of Crimson Peak at the Century Federal Way — a Cinemark theater that operates Barco projection systems and which has never failed me from a projection standpoint. The difference was as apparent as dusk versus day or, in this instance, the difference between a young girl in a dimly lit room being accosted by an indistinct black mass and that same young girl in a candlelit room being accosted by an enrobed black figure with defined facial features and clearly articulated fingers. (Incidentally, the Cinemark promo that now runs before the feature presentation literally ends with the phrase, “Illumination by Barco,” indicating that they know they are not in the business of merely projecting a moving image.)

Because of my previous experiences — now reinforced by this most recent experience — my modus operandi has long been to avoid AMC and Regal Cinemas theaters (both of which employ Sony 4K systems) until a film I want to see has been in release for at least three weeks. By that point, a film has typically been pushed out of the larger screening rooms by incoming new releases and moved “down the hall,” as it were, into a screening room more likely to have dedicated 2D projection uncomplicated by 3D polarization.

I advise everyone whose options are necessarily limited by the predominance of one of these two theater chains in their town to follow this rule of thumb. And if a Cinemark theater, with its superior Barco projection system, is within reasonable driving distance, I highly recommend going out of one’s way to patronize it, particularly on the opening weekend of a new release, if one is so inclined.

I can appreciate the business model that dictates how exhibitors must operate in this new digital world. It’s just that sometimes I wish they seemed to appreciate more the business model that dictates our choices as moviegoers.
 
 
UPDATE, 10/19/15: Not 40 minutes after I tweeted my post to the three theater chains I name-check above, I received a nice tweet from AMC Guest Services (@AMCHelps) informing me that they’d follow up with the Kent theater about their filters and settings.

I sent a follow-up tweet thanking AMC and asking whether Sony has provided theaters with a workaround for retracting the polarizers on their 4K projectors. (When I last investigated this issue, Sony projectors had polarizers that were locked in place and required Sony’s intervention to remove or retract. Whether newer models are more accessible and theater staff–friendly is kind of irrelevant if exhibitors aren’t required to upgrade their equipment every few years.) AMC responded that they’d try to find out. I don’t honestly anticipate that AMC would throw a business partner under the bus by supplying that intel to some random schmuck with a blog and a Twitter account, but I’ll keep you apprised just the same.
 
 
UPDATE, 10/21/15: @AMCHelps followed up to tell me that Sony has provided no workaround that they’re aware of, but “this issue is definitely on the radar of our sight and sound teams.” As well it should be.

Ultimately, I have a bigger beef with Sony here than I do with the theater chains, because it’s Sony that developed and mass-manufactured a projector system on which only its representatives can make adjustments and corrections.

This forces Sony-equipped theater chains and their individual theater management teams to make a one-time prediction regarding how many dedicated 3D and 2D screening rooms, respectively, they require to satisfy market demands. Opt for too few 3D screens, and a multiplex might have to choose between blockbusters on particularly big release weekends; opt for too many 3D screens, and multiplexes by necessity will end up showing some of its patrons dimly projected 2D films because they can’t afford to just let a screening room sit empty and unused during one or more time slots.

Here are AMC Kent Station’s showtimes for today, Wednesday, October 21:

Bridge of Spies   1:00 4:10 7:20 10:30
Crimson Peak: The IMAX Experience   1:20 4:15 7:15 10:10
Crimson Peak * 10:45   2:30 5:20 8:10
Goosebumps 3D 12:30 3:00 5:30 8:00 10:40
Goosebumps 11:15 1:50 4:30 7:00 9:40
Pan 3D **   1:30 4:10    
Pan 11:30 2:20 5:00 7:40 10:10
The Martian 3D 11:20 12:20 3:30 6:50 10:00
The Martian   1:15 4:25 7:45  
The Walk 3D **** 11:10   4:50   10:30
The Walk ****   2:00   7:40  
Hotel Transylvania 2 12:35 2:50 5:10 7:25 9:50
The Intern 10:50 1:40 4:40 7:10 10:20
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials **       7:30 10:35
Sicario 11:00 1:45 4:45 7:50 10:45
The Visit ***   1:10      
Back to the Future I, II and III marathon ***     4:30 7:00 9:30

 
So by all appearances, AMC Kent Station’s 14 screens break down as: one IMAX, five 3D and eight 2D.

* Clearly this is Theater 11, the 3D screening room where we saw Crimson Peak in 2D.

** Pan screens twice in 3D in the afternoon, then apparently cedes its screening room to two evening showings of Maze Runner in 2D.

*** It is reasonable to assume that because The Visit is screening only once on this day, it is making room for the Back to the Future marathon to take up the subsequent three showings on that screen.

**** That leaves The Walk, which by all appearances is alternating 3D and 2D showings on the same screen.

So if we set aside the IMAX screening room as its own separate enterprise, that leaves a total of 65 possible daily showtimes spread across 13 screens, and in eight of those screenings — four of Crimson Peak and two each of The Walk and Maze Runner, or 12 percent of the theater’s exhibition day — they’re going to be giving customers an inferior 2D experience, all because they have no means of manually retracting the polarization on their own projectors.

Worst of all, unless a moviegoer can read a schedule of theater showtimes the way Rain Man can count cards in Vegas, he doesn’t know he’s getting an inferior experience until he’s already driven across town, hunted for a parking space, paid for his ticket and taken his seat. In a Sony-equipped theater, this amounts to cinematic Russian roulette.
 
 
 
 
 
1 This is, coincidentally, the second time I’ve experienced bad projection of a period drama co-starring Mia Wasikowska, the previous occasion being a screening of Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre at a theater in Sacramento. That theater was screening in 35 mm, though, and either couldn’t afford to regularly replace its Xenon bulbs or, worse, was operating under the delusion that it was saving money and extending bulb life by dimming its projectors.

2 Look, I get it: These are most likely the kids who are given the keys to lock up at the end of the night — I didn’t see anyone in the front of the house who looked particularly managerial to me — and I don’t know to what extent their employers have briefed or educated them about projection, because in the new digital world, an entire week of exhibition can be scheduled on and operated by computer software, and entire days probably pass without a single human soul ever setting foot in a projection booth.

I once had a kid from the concession stand at a Regal Cinemas theater assure me that there was nothing wrong with the projection of the extremely dark screening of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo I was enduring there. It was a repeat screening for me; I had seen Hugo once before, properly illuminated, and knew how the film was supposed to look, so I had clearly been sold a 2D screening on a 3D projector. That kid is the primary reason I’m now emboldened to leave any screening I’m dissatisfied with and just ask for my money back, because there’s likely no one in-house who can just dash up to the projection booth and remove the polarizer from the projector — if it’s even a system with retractable polarization to begin with.

Written by Shepcat

October 19, 2015 at 11:58 am

Posted in Movies

My Survey of Scorsese: After Hours

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Generally and subjectively speaking, eight films into the burgeoning young career of Martin Scorsese, a pattern has emerged: Every other picture is pretty good, if not great, and the ones in between are sort of average, if not awful. To recap:

  • Who’s That Knocking at My Door: an auspicious feature debut
  • Boxcar Bertha: some promising technical development, but not a good movie
  • Mean Streets: his first certifiably great film
  • Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: a departure in style and form that breaks even — good performances, but not a showcase for Scorsese
  • Taxi Driver: his first legendary film
  • New York, New York: an ambitious misfire
  • Raging Bull: acclaimed as the best film of the 1980s
  • The King of Comedy: an almost deliberately unlikable film

Among these titles, Bertha and Alice are easily written off as good early learning experiences, but New York, New York and The King of Comedy are the miscalculated failures of an assured, now-formidable filmmaker who should have known better, albeit one whose personal life was somewhat fraught during this period. The former feels as if it’s trying to be too many things at once, the latter as if it’s not trying to be enough.

One would expect that Scorsese’s ninth feature should be something great, not only according to the pattern but, well, because it sort of has to be to keep him from spiraling into a slump. And at the time, he was trying to launch what would be one of his most ambitious and controversial films, The Last Temptation of Christ, but financing fell through, the production unraveled, and Scorsese found himself without a film.

Enter actor Griffin Dunne and his producing partner, Amy Robinson (previously Harvey Keitel’s love interest in Mean Streets), who bring Scorsese a script that would become not a great film, exactly, but something that Scorsese perhaps needed even more at this point in his career: a kick in the pants, a complete break from form.

After Hours marks Scorsese’s first film without either Keitel or De Niro; in fact, he doesn’t cast a single actor he’d ever directed in the past (to wit: Cheech and Chong). If his signature movies are “New York movies,” this one is a SoHo movie, distilled down to the particular weirdness of the neighborhood where the story is principally set. If his films to date have all been novels with powerful themes and overarching dramatic arcs, this is a short story that takes place entirely in one night. Call it wacky, call it surreal, call it Kafkaesque — After Hours is the best of the outliers in the Scorsese canon, the right film at the right time to shake Scorsese out of his routine in the best possible way.

Because it’s a “short story,” cubicle drone Paul Hackett (Dunne) wants less than any other Scorsese protagonist: In the first scene, he can barely sit still to listen to his co-worker Lloyd (Bronson Pinchot) talk about his own outsize ambitions in the publishing industry. By contrast, Paul wants only to get out of his apartment for the night. Once he’s out, all he wants is to get back to it and go to sleep.

Paul wears a tan suit with a white dress shirt, works in a white office in a beige office building, and returns home to the beige furniture and white walls of his apartment. (Even the brand name on his watch, we see later, is “Khaki.”) He’s a drab man with a drab life who, were it not for his red necktie, might disappear into his surroundings altogether, never to be seen again.

But we don’t need Paul himself to be a dynamic figure, because on the heels of the dull, static King of Comedy, first-time Scorsese lenser Michael Ballhaus’ camera is alive from the very first frame. Literally the opening shot of the movie is a fast dolly zoom across an entire office space, through employees, over desks and past equipment, ending on Paul seated at a desk alongside Lloyd. We are signaled from the very beginning that we — Paul and the audience — are about to be taken on a ride.

As two custodians close a pair of giant gilded gates behind him, Paul doesn’t appear to be exiting his office building so much as being banished from some nondescript paradise, as though he is about to descend into the underworld. Which isn’t so far from the truth.

Paul escapes his drab apartment to eat in a diner, where he re-reads a dog-eared copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. We pull back from him to include Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) in the shot: the meet-cute.

Ballhaus’ camera is rarely still. It dances around the characters the way they dance around each other, as though looking for an angle, a way in. Paul is oblivious to Marcy at first, but once she makes conversation about Paul’s book, the camera moves to bring them together in the frame as she makes the first move to be near him. When she tells him about the bagel-and–cream cheese plaster paperweights her loftmate Kiki makes, it’s her ploy to give him her phone number.

Paul is in a constant state of being acted upon. He is an entirely passive and resigned protagonist, a shlemazel. His boldest move is to call Kiki later that evening about buying one of her ridiculous paperweights, perhaps hoping without even knowing for sure that it will reunite him with Marcy, which of course was Marcy’s plan all along:

“Maybe you should come on over, Paul.” PUSH ZOOM to Paul’s alarm clock: 11:32 p.m.

Inanimate objects are freighted with meaning here and photographed with forceful intent. There seem to be more zooms and smash cuts to telephones here than in any other movie ever made. We see Tom’s top-hatted-skull key fob in close-up on more than one occasion. (It matches the tattoo Paul sees later on Marcy’s inner thigh.) Objects carry as much visual weight as Paul himself precisely because they’re practically characters in their own right, moving Paul through his nighttime hellscape, away from and toward salvation, as much as the five women Paul encounters do:

  • Marcy, the mysterious flibbertigibbet who lures Paul to SoHo in the first place;
  • Kiki (Linda Fiorentino), the sculptress and bondage aficionado whose loft Marcy is staying in;
  • Julie (Teri Garr), the disgruntled cocktail waitress with the beehive hairdo and two dozen cans of Aqua-Net on a shelf in her apartment;
  • Gail (Catherine O’Hara), who injures Paul as she’s exiting a cab, then ends up chasing him in a Mister Softee ice cream truck; and
  • June (Verna Bloom), the aging beauty who lives beneath Club Berlin and who ultimately effects Paul’s deliverance from his nightmare.

If one were educated in the classics and could make a more studious dissection of the movie, these women possibly represent the Furies of ancient myth, sent to punish and destroy Paul for his sins.1

The plot is also driven largely by coincidences, many of which would seem too convenient or contrived if the story didn’t take place in an area of about 40 square blocks. For example, the $20 bill Paul loses, idiotically, during the most hellbent cab ride of his life cannot possibly be the same one he later finds papered into Kiki’s sculpture. Or can it?

Certainly Paul couldn’t know, as he tells Kiki his story about being moved to a burn unit to recover from tonsil surgery as a child, that he would soon stumble upon evidence that Marcy may have recently suffered second-degree burns. Right?

Or what about the bartender Tom being Marcy’s boyfriend and his name being on a bottle of pills in her apartment? Or the unwittingly on-the-nose thing Tom says to Paul just before he answers the phone in the bar and receives bad news?

Or the fact that Kiki and June — who get Paul into his predicament and help him escape it, respectively — are both papier-mâché artists?

Or maybe I’m overthinking it. It’s late, and I just want to go home and get some sleep.
 
 
 
Random Observations:

  • The only things about the movie that make it seem dated are:
    • the desktop word-processing computer we see in the very first scene, with its bright green dot-matrix monitor that is only sexy now because of the Wachowskis’ Matrix films;
    • the fact that Paul has only a $20 bill at the beginning and is stranded after he loses it, either because ATMs are not yet widely used in 1985 or the movie willfully ignores them in order to advance the story; and
    • Paul identifying himself as a “word processor,” which in 1985 was an actual job title.
  • When the yellow taxi Paul hails pulls to the curb, one’s first thought is “Travis Bickle,” but then it takes off careening through the night the way the ambulance would several years later in Bringing Out the Dead.
  • Julie’s guest-check note to Paul and the face she makes when he glances over at her are perfect.
  • It’s fun to watch how Paul manages not to have to pay for anything when he’s down to his last 97 cents.
  • Because both movies hinge upon their protagonists being swept up in a case of mistaken identity, one can’t help comparing Paul’s beleaguered tan suit — which over the course of a single night is rumpled, plastered, rained on, bloodied and plastered again — to Roger Thornhill’s iconic blue business suit in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, which goes from New York to Chicago to Prairie Stop, Route 41 to Rapid City, South Dakota, and is retired in more or less immaculate condition, having only once been tended to by a Hotel Ambassador valet to sponge the dust and pesticides out of it.
  • Other characters are constantly asking Paul why he doesn’t just go home. Had the story not come full circle to arrive at its conclusion, a great sequel would comprise all the things that could happen to Paul after he decides to just walk home, from SoHo to his apartment uptown on East 91st Street.
  • A great double feature from 1985: Scorsese’s New York–set After Hours and John Landis’ Into the Night, set in Los Angeles and starring Jeff Goldblum as an insomniac drawn into international intrigue after a chance encounter in an LAX parking garage with damsel-in-distress Michelle Pfeiffer. Landis’ film is much busier, more frantic and features a dozen or so cameos by himself and other directors. Both films are sort of perfect in their own ways.
  • After the bitter slog that was The King of Comedy — I mean, seriously, I bogarted that Netflix disc for six months — these feel like the easiest 1,800 words I’ve ever written. Thanks, After Hours!

 
 
 
Coming soon: The Color of Money (1986)
 
 
 
 
 
1 I, on the other hand, was lucky to escape the University of Kansas, Paul Hackett–like, with the education I have, so this is not that film review.

Written by Shepcat

March 2, 2015 at 2:10 am

Posted in Continuing Series, Movies

Tagged with

My Survey of Scorsese: The King of Comedy

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Martin Scorsese’s follow-up to one of his best films — to date or since — is arguably the least approachable film in his canon. I had seen The King of Comedy many years ago, and all I could remember from that first experience was a vague sense of unease or distaste that I brought with me into — and had confirmed by — this latest encounter.

I have never been a fan of the comedy of awkward protagonists in awkward situations, often improvisation-driven, that has become such a cultural touchstone in recent years. The Office (both the U.K. and U.S. versions), Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret are just a few mainstays of this subgenre for which I have little or no patience. I don’t like things that make me cringe, and I can’t see the humor in a situation I find discomfiting being exacerbated by a character I don’t like. The King of Comedy isn’t necessarily meant to be funny, but it is based on the same formula.

The protagonist here, aspiring stand-up comic Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), has the wardrobe, grooming and smarmy personality of a bad salesman, trying to project a charismatic attitude that seems copied from bad TV. Rupert lives both in his mother’s basement and in a delusional, juvenile fantasy of his own design, one that’s not based on anything he’s seen in the real world. He’s a 13-year-old practicing an Oscar acceptance speech in front of a mirror. His laugh is fake and forced. His gestures are exaggerated as though he’s always playing to the back of the house. His confrontation tactic is to just keep talking in the hope that he can run out the clock or wear down those who would deny him.

The object of Rupert’s delusion, his ticket to stardom, is Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), who in this film’s universe is, essentially, Johnny Carson. He’s the biggest talk-show host in the world, and yet one wonders how he could possibly inspire the adulation and crazed devotion his fans exhibit.

However flawed and aloof Johnny may have been in his personal life, when he stepped in front of the camera he was one of the most charming, engaging, purely and instantly likable public figures of the last century. Jerry, on the other hand, greets his audience with a cold, unsmiling smirk of self-satisfaction (the same one we see later painted on the walls of his reception area). He’s dressed in a dark suit, and the studio lights reflect off his oversize eyeglasses so we can’t really get a good look at his eyes (or into his soul). He expects the applause, making a small gesture to command more from the audience. He never really smiles, though everyone around him — his bandleader, his announcer — grins broadly, as though it’s the best night of their lives. Everything about Jerry says, “I’m doing you a favor by being here tonight.”

Rupert and Jerry’s meet-cute, as it were, is effected after the show by Rupert’s accomplice, Masha (Sandra Bernhard), a nasty little sociopath — and, apparently, socialite, living in the kind of inexplicable opulence one imagines she obtained by killing her wealthy parents — who is the ne plus ultra of obsessed fans. In the frantic crush of Jerry’s post-show stage-door admirers, Masha insinuates herself into the back of Jerry’s limo, her inevitable removal from which creates Rupert’s own opportunity to join Jerry there after heroically fending off the crowd. The scene is reminiscent of Jimmy hustling Francine in the back of the taxi in New York, New York: Rupert’s a fast-talking huckster using what little time he has to make a play for the thing he wants — in this case, his shot at the big time.

The relationship between Rupert and Masha is that of a couple of petulant children vying against each other for the attention, if not the actual affection, of a derelict father. Apart from their respective obsessions with Jerry, Rupert and Masha’s only common trait is that they are both stalkers. The difference being that Masha is predatory, while Rupert is merely persistent. Masha stalks Rupert the same way she stalks Jerry; reconnaissance and surveillance are the only ways she knows how to behave, to pursue (though not to get) what she wants. Rupert on the other hand simply won’t take no for an answer, and though he puts on a show of cheerful understanding in the face of rejection, his tone and his methods gradually turn darker the more he hears no.

A scene in which Masha pursues Jerry on the streets of New York begins comically but quickly turns malevolent. There’s an element of danger here that seems to be Scorsese’s most pointed reason for making this particular movie: as a not-so-subtle comment on the dark side of our obsession with celebrity, like that which incited John Hinckley to shoot President Reagan to get Jodie Foster’s attention after Hinckley became obsessed with Taxi Driver. Masha exudes sexual voraciousness, but she seems just as likely to kill Jerry as to have her way with him.

So this is what the audience is up against: three leads who are neither likable nor sympathetic. It’s as though we’re being dared to root for any one of them as the lesser among evils, but the only remotely admirable person here is the barmaid Rita (Diahnne Abbott), who is even more of a hostage or victim than Jerry is. We feel for her despite our incredulity that a woman this attractive could ever be enthralled by Rupert, whom she apparently hasn’t thought about in the 15 years since they attended high school together. And yet, Rupert apparently knew all along where he could find her. One wonders how long he had been stalking her before he made his approach in the bar, emboldened by his encounter with Jerry earlier that evening.

All of this — these unlikable people, these awkward situations — could have been more interesting if the film had a distinctive visual style, but Scorsese shoots King in a flat documentary style that neither challenges nor entertains the eye and which doesn’t come to fruition until the film’s ending, which plays like the narrated portions of Sidney Lumet’s Network.

Only three shots in the movie stand out as having been designed with any thought or care whatsoever:

  • At 14:30, Masha calls Jerry at home, and as Jerry asks, “How did you get this number?” the TV in the background displays a zoom to another character talking on a telephone who appears to be posing the same question. Even though we haven’t seen Scorsese’s signature shot up to this point, he employs another filmmaker’s use of it in the background to achieve similar dramatic effect.
  • At 34:05, as Rupert introduces himself on the demo tape he’s making for Jerry, we cut to the most consciously stylistic shot of the movie so far: Rupert standing in front of a wall-size photo of the studio audience and the slow pullback as he basks in their static adulation. The shot lasts nearly a minute as it slowly dollies back into a long empty hallway that represents Rupert’s echo chamber, the laughter that only he can hear.
  • At 74:22 comes the film’s best effort at visual comedy: an overhead shot of Rupert taping Jerry to a chair in Masha’s apartment that pays off a couple of minutes later when we pull back from Rupert grooming himself at the mirror to see Jerry completely mummified in tape. Now that was funny.

For a film called The King of Comedy, it lacks the sort of setup-punchline rhythm that one would hope for. Rupert’s various confrontations — whether with Rita or Jerry or Jerry’s support staff — are agonizing to sit through. Rupert drags these encounters past the point when a reasonable person would walk away and devise a new approach. But because he is clearly accustomed to rejection, he digs in, doubles down and tries to win every battle through attrition with his misguided charm offensives.

That said, perhaps the canniest thing about The King of Comedy is that it withholds Rupert’s act from us until the very end of the film. Whether he’s actually funny isn’t relevant to the character or the story, until it is. And when we finally see him perform … he doesn’t suck. Or, at least, his act plays credibly before the kind of audience who would find Jerry Langford funny, with their heartiest laughter coming in response to Rupert’s confession that he could get on the show only by kidnapping Jerry.

Which, ultimately, is how The King of Comedy feels to me: It’s something to be endured, like a kidnapping, as though I’ve been held hostage for two hours waiting for the payoff to arrive. And while I am a great admirer of Scorsese, not even Stockholm Syndrome can make me like this film.

Ba-dum-bump! Thank you. You’ve been a lovely audience. Be sure to tip your waitresses on the way out.
 
 
 
Random observations:

  • The opening credits play over one of my favorite songs of all time: Ray Charles singing “Come Rain or Come Shine.” It’s all downhill from there.
  • We never see Rupert’s mom, voiced by the director’s own mother, the marvelous Catherine Scorsese. One is tempted to imagine that she’s a figment of Rupert’s imagination, a la Norman Bates’ mother in Psycho, and that Rupert is living in the basement of, and being harangued by, a dead woman.
  • At 14:00, Jerry comes home to his stark, cavernous apartment, turns on the TV and briefly watches a scene of Richard Widmark picking pockets on the subway in Sam Fuller’s Pickup on South Street. It’s a reach to assume that this is Scorsese’s commentary about an interloper taking something that doesn’t belong to him — to wit: Rupert literally trying to take Jerry’s life — so probably it’s just a superfluous shout-out to a pretty good crime movie (featuring a terrific performance by Thelma Ritter).
  • At 37:45, the film’s first genuinely funny moment: In an imaginary meeting, after Jerry listens to Rupert’s tape for the first time, Jerry expresses his jealousy for Rupert’s talent by strangling him. The exaggerated slapstick of the moment is the first and perhaps only time the film allows you to feel any warmth or affection for its characters.
  • Even when Jerry is trying to talk his way out of a life-and-death situation, his apology and explanation sound disingenuous and not fully thought-out, as though it’s Rupert’s own half-formed fantasy about how Jerry would try to talk his way out of the kidnapping. Or perhaps Jerry Lewis is just bad at improv.

 
 
 
Coming soon: After Hours (1985)

Written by Shepcat

February 8, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Posted in Continuing Series, Movies

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The Insignificant Detail #9

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BLOOD? WHAT BLOOD?

After my second pass through the sequence I describe herein, I was initially prepared to hail it as containing the single greatest match cut in film history. Then I watched it a third time, and a fourth, and a fifth, cycling through it in half-second increments, and was reminded that we live in a digital age of wonders, and what our eyes see and our brains process ain’t always necessarily so.

Still, the prestidigitation — or prestidigitization, if you will — performed by director Alfonso Cuarón, the camera crew helmed by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and the digital-effects team on the 2006 film Children of Men makes for an interesting study in How did they do that? followed closely by Why did they do that? and, more to the point, Why did they choose to do it that way?

Children of Men notably contains a half-dozen or more long, uninterrupted takes of varying duration — tracking shots or one-shots or “oners,” whichever term you prefer. Throughout the Internet, one can find plenty of debate about tracking shots in general and Cuarón’s tracking shots here in particular. To wit: Are they necessary? Do they aid in the storytelling? Are they just so much showing-off by the filmmaker?

I would argue that the tracking shots Cuarón employs here are more than mere indulgences and are highly effective in drawing the audience in to its hero’s point of view from one harrowing ordeal to the next.

The shot most often singled out for debate concludes Act 1 and involves an ambush on a vehicle containing five principal characters and a rotating camera that is shooting 360 degrees of action from inside the vehicle. But the shot that captured my attention is the sequence late in the movie that follows Theo (Clive Owen) through bombed-out city streets as he and Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) attempt their escape, aided by the old woman Marichka (Oana Pellea) and the Georgian rebel Sirdjan (Faruk Pruti).

If you’re geek enough to follow along on your own DVD copy of the film, join me in Chapter 17. The long tracking shot in question begins at 1:23:46, framing an archway through which our characters are about to run out into the street. During the first three minutes of the take, circumstances separate Theo from the group, but he keeps moving ahead until, at 1:26:48 he is fired upon in the street and must take cover in a bombed-out city bus that’s been taken over by squatters.

  • 1:26:52 A shot is fired into the bus and hits one of the occupants, splattering at least seven prominently visible blood spots on the lens in the main field of vision. But the action keeps moving and so does the camera.
     
  • 1:27:12 As Theo exits from the rear of the bus, the seven spots are clearly visible in the frame.
     
  • 1:27:21 Theo runs across the street and dives for cover in front of the bombed-out building he’s trying to get inside. Six spots are still visible here; the seventh, at lower right, becomes visible when the camera pans away from Theo’s coat.
     
  • 1:27:43 An explosion rocks the front the building on the second or third floor, and Theo makes his move for the entrance.
     
  • 1:27:52 As he enters the building, the screen goes mostly black for about a second. Somewhere in those 24 frames, it’s entirely possible that a cut could be made, but the flow of the action, camera movement and sound design seem uninterrupted.
     
  • 1:27:58 There is more dark than light in the frame for the next several seconds, but upon close inspection, only three spots are now distinctly visible in the middle of the lens as a wounded man on the floor reaches out to Theo.
     
  • 1:28:00 Two of the spots pass over a brightly backlit doorway in the background of the shot and seem to dissipate there, while the remaining spot is still visible against the black of Theo’s coat. The camera moves in on Theo crouched at the base of the stairwell.
     
  • 1:28:03 From Theo, the camera pans up, and midway through the pan, we can still see that remaining spot until it too passes against a white background, at which point it is gone.
     
  • 1:28:07 The camera pans back down to pick up Theo and continues to follow him up two flights of stairs and down corridors until he is reunited with Kee and a cut completely reverses the camera angle at 1:30:04.

One uninterrupted take lasting 6 minutes, 18 seconds.

Blood — whether of the real or squib-packet variety — doesn’t simply evaporate, and at no point could the camera operator have wiped the blood off his lens while in motion without blurring the image and ruining the take, so there are at least three possibilities for what we see here:

  1. The vertical pan from Theo’s shoulder up the stairwell at 1:28:03 is The Greatest Match Cut in Film History.
  2. The squib explodes, blood spatters the lens, and in post-production the digital-effects team composites the blood spots out of the picture one at a time until the image is normalized, to lessen the visual impact of Now you see the blood; now you don’t.
  3. There was never a squib at all, and the initial blood spatter itself was digitally inserted for both dramatic and documentary-style effect, then gradually removed from the frame as the scene progressed.

As camera operator George Richmond describes in this video, the answer is No. 2. An exploding squib indeed spattered the lens, and although a camera assistant pointed it out in the heat of the moment, Richmond soldiered on so not to break up a take in the middle, just as it was nearing the height of its painstakingly choreographed action.1

I had quickly ruled out my initial reaction — option No. 1 — for two reasons: the improbability of matching the mark with a handheld camera and the presence of the last remaining blood spot during the pan up the stairwell.

Furthermore, if you think of the sequence as divided into two halves — the first driven principally by action, the latter driven by drama — the digital fix of option No. 2 allows the shot to seamlessly continue into its dramatic half without the distraction of the blood-spattered lens that seemed perfectly organic during the chaos only moments before.

And ruling out option No. 3 is, frankly, a relief, because it would be a totally unnecessary thing for a filmmaker to do when there’s so much more important stuff happening, both in the frame and on the set. I mean, that would require, like, Michael Bay–grade levels of douchebaggery, all for the sake of one Insignificant Detail.
 
 
 
 
 
1 In the moment, I recalled an interview I watched recently. Actor-director Jon Favreau asked Martin Scorsese about a scene in Casino in which Ginger (Sharon Stone) has a meltdown in the bedroom she shares with Ace (Robert De Niro). At some point in their confrontation, the stationary camera gets bumped ever so slightly but noticeably. Favreau thought it was brave of the filmmaker to leave that “imperfect” shot in the finished film in service of the actors’ best take, and Scorsese conceded that a director can’t ask his actors to duplicate such an emotionally raw performance like so much lightning in a bottle just because his camera got bumped. (Well, Kubrick would have. But that man was a sick, perfectionist monster.) And that was just a bedroom scene between two people. Now imagine calling “Cut!” going back to square one, and running take 2 of a battle sequence enacted by a cast of hundreds over several city blocks.

Written by Shepcat

October 11, 2014 at 7:53 pm

My Survey of Scorsese: Raging Bull

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Very generally speaking — putting aside the sport’s more flamboyant, incendiary or infamous public figures, its Muhammad Alis, its Floyd Mayweathers, its Mike Tysons — prizefighters are often reserved, soft-spoken people in their daily lives, men who train hard in the gym, fight ferociously in the ring, take out their aggression in the practice of their trade, and leave everything they have in the squared circle, men with nothing left to prove, who sleep well at night.

From the outset, however, Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull establishes its protagonist, the legendary middleweight Jake LaMotta (Academy Award winner Robert De Niro), as an outlier of that category, an untamed beast, a man whose anguish cannot be quelled, whose personal demons cannot be exhausted by the cathartic violence of the ring. Even the extended opening credit sequence, lyrical as it is, depicts Jake in his leopard-print robe, shadow-boxing, stalking the ring — almost literally an animal in a cage.

Raging-Bull-Director-Card

After a brief glimpse ahead at 1964, when we encounter the champion in twilight, bloated of torso and bulbous of nose, trading on his past glory to perform canned soliloquies in a cheesy nightclub act, we cut to Cleveland, September 1941, LaMotta vs. Jimmy Reeves:

All is chaos. Fights are taking place in the crowd during the fight in the ring. Jake, losing on points, rallies late and punishes Reeves, knocking him out as time expires in the final round. Saved by the bell, Reeves is awarded a controversial unanimous decision. Bedlam erupts as Reeves’ corner men carry him out like a sagging body bag. Chairs are thrown into the ring. Men are thrown out of the ring. A woman is trampled by the ensuing mob. The arena organist launches into “The Star Spangled Banner” in a vain attempt to call the mob to order. The LaMottas’ protests are futile, and we see our first example of a theme that casts Jake, in his own eyes at least, as a pawn of the system.

And indeed, he’s no less indentured than any other fighter to the mobster Tommy Como (based on real-life boxing promoter and Lucchese family soldier Frankie Carbo), without whose influence he’d be unable to get a title shot. However, Jake seems more concerned about Tommy taking a cut of his prize money than about any moral dilemma or delusions of his own integrity.

Jake is driven by ego and pride, suspicious of the motives of others, fueled by jealousy, standing alone against all comers, even those closest to him. And so he battles his wife because she overcooks his steak, and shouts threats at the neighbor who overhears their argument and calls Jake an animal, and goads his brother, Joey (Joe Pesci), into punching him in the face just so he can prove that his toughness extends to the world outside the ring.

If we didn’t appreciate Scorsese’s de facto ownership of the dolly push into close-up before Raging Bull, there was no denying it after 1980. He and cinematographer Michael Chapman use it to stunning effect here, whether dreamily, as in our introduction to the glamorous young Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), or even self-mockingly, as in a shot immediately following the latter, in which the camera dollies slowly back from the mob lieutenant Salvy (Frank Vincent) as he removes his sunglasses from his shirt pocket and places them on his face.

However, the technique is best employed in the film’s fight sequences, a tailor-made showcase for Scorsese’s signature camera move. In the Jimmy Reeves fight that opens the picture, the push is used twice in quick succession, to reflect the present state of each fighter: first rapidly into Jake’s corner, urgently, because as we learn from his corner men, he is losing the fight on points and will need a knockout to win; then, from across the ring, slowly, almost casually into Reeves’ corner, where Jake’s opponent sits cool and collected, barely breaking a sweat as his seconds wordlessly attend to him.

Despite professing no passion for or even particular knowledge of the fight game before making Raging Bull (the movie was mostly De Niro’s baby from inception), Scorsese becomes the first director of note to put his camera inside the ring, prowling alongside the action instead of shooting through the ropes like a detached observer or a television broadcast, making us witness more intimately the raw, visceral force and not just the mere fact of the violence perpetrated in the ring.

Each shot is specific and precisely composed, because the fight scenes here are not merely action — they are intricately intertwined with Jake’s character arc, his state of mind over the course of the film. The ring shrinks from fight to fight. Less light is used. Camera angles get tighter. Whip pans convey dizziness and disorientation. The camera is cranked at different frame rates. Frank Warner’s sound design, replete with braying-elephant and shuddering-horse sound effects (and sometimes silence, where appropriate), enhance the primal, relentless brutality at an almost subliminal level. In the film’s more violent moments, whether inside or outside the ring, the gorgeous chiaroscuro of Chapman’s cinematography looks like the prelude to a Weegee crime-scene photo.

Scorsese’s most important collaborator, however — even more so than De Niro here, I would argue, and ever after — is editor Thelma Schoonmaker, who on this film rejoined him for good and won an Academy Award for her efforts. Schoonmaker is always quick to note that Scorsese makes her work easier by having a definite vision for the film he is shooting and not just dumping a lot of takes on her in the middle of principal photography, but it is remarkable to note how easily they fall into their routine here, working together for only the third time, and for the first time in a decade, since Michael Wadleigh’s 1970 documentary Woodstock, on which they served as second unit directors and two of the film’s seven credited editors.

There are layers to this film that look and feel very different if viewed separately — a stripped-down cinema verite aesthetic one moment, a French New Wave sensibility the next, the extended montage, an occasional scene that has a 1950s live-television feel, the hyper-real intensity and shot-by-shot detail of the fight sequences interspersed throughout — yet in the full context of the film, these disparate elements fit together seamlessly. That it’s all calculated and never seems slapdash is as much a credit to Schoonmaker’s acute sense of timing and attention to tone and tempo as to Scorsese’s vision. In the hands of a lesser editor, this film would be a camel instead of a horse.

The usual Catholic iconography is present throughout the film — every room in every apartment is watched over by a couple of saints, or Christ; the Blessed Virgin guards every doorway; a rosary hangs on a picture frame; a figurine stands atop a bureau; a cross hangs over the bed. And yet these characters don’t seem to struggle against the tide of morality; they don’t seem bothered that their sins are being witnessed, unlike the earlier Keitel characters in particular. In one respect, it’s Scorsese shoehorning one of his obsessions into a film where it might not seem to fit; on the other hand, it subtly underscores Jake’s animal nature.

After Jake loses the third Robinson fight (the second depicted in the movie) by unanimous decision, he remarks, in a rare if not singular instance of introspection, “I’ve done a lot of bad things, Joey. Maybe it’s comin’ back to me. Who knows? I’m a jinx maybe. Who the hell knows?” Certainly the audience doesn’t. Even this moment is devoid of any particularly Catholic sense of guilt or remorse, and apart from our having witnessed Jake’s treatment of the women in his life, we’ve really seen none of these “bad things” he refers to nor, for that matter, anything of his life at all before the September 1941 Jimmy Reeves fight that opens the picture.

Here, as Jake’s hand soaks in the ice bucket, meriting its own slow push into close-up, we segue into the film’s centerpiece, a beautiful two-and-a-half-minute montage intercutting still photos of fights with color home movies, set to Pietro Mascagni’s “Barcarolle”:

  • Jake fights Fritzie Zivic for the fourth time, winning by unanimous decision in Detroit, January 1944.
  • Jake courts Vickie with Joey as their third wheel.
  • Jake defeats Jose Basora with a 9th round TKO at Madison Square Garden in August 1945.
  • Jake marries Vickie. We have dispensed with his first wife with no additional conflict or apparent remorse.
  • Jake beats George Kochan for the third time, by 9th round TKO at the Garden, in September 1945.
  • The honeymoon period. Jake and Vickie frolic at the public swimming pool where they first met.
  • Jake fights Jimmy Edgar to a draw in their third bout, in Detroit, June 1946.
  • Joey marries Lenore (Theresa Saldana) in a rooftop celebration overlooking the Bronx.
  • Jake knocks out Bob Satterfield in the 7th round at Wrigley Field in Chicago, September 1946.
  • Jake carries Vickie across the threshold of a new house on Pelham Parkway.
  • Children for both LaMotta brothers and their brides, apparent domestic bliss.
  • Jake decisions Tommy Bell at the Garden, March 1947.

The montage covers a span during which Jake fought 29 times in roughly 38 months — unheard-of today — earning 25 wins against three losses and a draw, two of those losses decisions at the hands of Sugar Ray Robinson. The sequence is perhaps intended to lull us into a sense of hope and joy for the turning fortunes of the brothers LaMotta, but we emerge from this idyll to find them berating their wives and each other at the breakfast table, chiefly over Vickie’s innocent remark about Jake’s next opponent being a “good-looking” up-and-coming fighter. (Joey: “So you make him ugly. What’s the difference?”)

This and the Copacabana sequence in which we at last meet the shadowy Tommy Como (Nicholas Colasanto) have been our prelude to the jealous rage and unbridled violence Jake takes into the ring for his date with Tony Janiro at the Garden in June 1947. (Tommy, at ringside: “He ain’t pretty no more.”)

The Copacabana sequences also give us a glimpse into the mob demimonde that Scorsese would depict so acutely and artfully in Goodfellas and Casino a decade later, having hinted at it in the previous decade with the aspiring young mobsters of Mean Streets and, before that, the half-assed hoodlums of Who’s That Knocking at My Door. Inasmuch as Scorsese is much more than a director of mob or crime films, if we focus on this one particular storytelling arc, we can watch him gradually refine his signature over the course of his career.1 Scorsese typically underscores the seduction of the mob by depicting its opulent social life, its nattily attired capos and lieutenants making the scene with mistresses on their arms, saluting each other across the room and sending drinks over to other tables, presenting a posture of camaraderie and good will that belies their more nefarious traits and habits, the work they do with guns and knives and tire irons or merely by applying pressure, just so.

Thus do we revisit the theme of Jake’s resistance to mob influence and the corruption of the fight game, touched upon earlier in the film, as Jake learns that taking a dive against Billy Fox in November 1947 at Tommy’s behest is essentially the only way Jake can secure himself a shot at the title. It’s an unconvincing dive, too, with Jake refusing to go down and instead taking punishment without defending himself until the ref stops the fight.

The final Sugar Ray Robinson fight, in which Jake loses his title, is played as penance, with Jake absorbing as much punishment as humanly possible in the 13th round, then boasting to Robinson from behind his cuts and swollen eyes, “Hey, Ray. I never went down, Ray. You never got me down, Ray.” In filmic terms, this moment is his redemption for taking the dive against the lesser Billy Fox.2 As viewed through Chapman’s lens, the shot that concludes the sequence — of Jake’s blood dripping from the rope against which he absorbed his greatest punishment from Robinson — is as forthright an allusion to the Crucifixion as you’re going to get this side of The Last Temptation of Christ.

Having conducted that karmic transaction to balance the books on his career, we jump ahead once more to the fat, broken-down Jake, the aspiring nightclub impresario we met in the film’s opening, to find that he is every bit as irredeemable as a middle-aged civilian as he was as a middleweight contender and that the errors of his ways in the real world pay off with serious consequences — the loss of his family, home and business, the badly negotiated pawning of his championship belt to cover bail, a stretch in solitary confinement in the Dade County jail, a descent into a low-rent lifestyle unbecoming a champion.

In the film’s final scene, a tuxedoed Jake sits before a dressing-room mirror, rehearsing Brando’s “contender” speech from On the Waterfront. That monologue, on its face, is about another boxer whom the mob forced to throw a fight, and while it allows Scorsese to tip his hat to one of his idols, Elia Kazan, the choice is drenched in thematic and symbolic irony:

  • In Waterfront, Terry Malloy’s own brother, Charlie the Gent, set him up to take the fall, both as a boxer and as a flunky for the union boss Johnny Friendly, while Joey LaMotta is Jake’s one true ally, whom Jake repays with suspicion, accusation and violence.
  • Jake’s dive against Fox — seemingly the only thing he ever had to do for the mob — did get him a shot at the title, which he won, then pissed away; Terry’s dive got him “a one-way ticket to Palookaville.”
  • Arriving at this point after all we’ve witnessed, the idea that Jake “coulda had class” seems preposterous. This version of the Jake LaMotta character ends in a fitting place, washed-up and alone, speaking of “taking dives for the short-end money,” while Terry eventually challenges and exposes the mob, rallies the longshoremen behind him, wins the respect of his community and redemption through the love of Edie Doyle.

But hey, if a caricature of one’s former self wants to cast oneself more heroically in the light of one’s past glories and with favorable comparisons to Brando3 — that’s entertainment.
 
 
 
Random Observations:

  • The film is produced by Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, who, coincidentally, co-produced Rocky only a few years earlier and used United Artists’ desire for a sequel to its 1977 Best Picture winner as leverage to get Raging Bull made.
  • In the first major film appearance for both actors, Joe Pesci delivers his first cinematic beatdown of Frank Vincent. Broken glass, a table, fists, a velvet-rope bollard, the door of a taxi — this beatdown has something for everybody. Salvy at least survives this beating, faring much better than Billy Batts in Goodfellas.
  • Scorsese cast a number of New York–based prizefighters in the roles of LaMotta’s various opponents:
    • Floyd Anderson (as Jimmy Reeves) fought twice professionally, in 1978 and 1980, losing both times.
    • Kevin Mahon (as Tony Janiro) fought three professional bouts as a middleweight in 1977-78, recording a record of 1-2-0.
    • Louis Raftis (as middleweight champion Marcel Cerdan) fought nine times between 1965 and 1978, posting a record of 8-0-1.
    • Johnny Barnes (as pound-for-pound legend Sugar Ray Robinson) boxed competitively in the Army, in the Golden Gloves and in other amateur tournaments but never professionally.
    • Coley Wallace (as heavyweight champion Joe Louis) fought Rocky Marciano as an amateur and Ezzard Charles as a pro, compiling a professional record of 20-7-0 during the 1950s.
    • Johnny Turner (as Laurent Dauthuille) amassed a record of 42-6-2 as a welterweight and once fought Wilfred Benitez.
    • In perhaps the production’s slyest inside joke, Billy Fox, the feckless opponent against whom Jake takes a dive, is portrayed by former WBA light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, who fought to a career record of 50-8-1.
  • Fast-forward to 22:08 through 32:22 of this interview in which editor Thelma Schoonmaker breaks down the Sugar Ray Robinson fights. Or, you know, just watch the whole video, because she’s an incredibly cool lady talking about her incredibly cool collaborators and their craft.
  • A detail that caught my eye on my third pass through the movie: On Jake’s ring walk before his title shot against Marcel Cerdan, his hands are wrapped but not gloved. In the modern era, an official inspects both fighters’ hand wraps and gloves in the dressing room before the fight; the gloves are taped at the wrist, the official signs the tape, and the fighter is wearing those gloves from that moment until the final bell. I’m unable to find online any definitive mention of when that practice began, but it’s reasonable to assume that it wasn’t enacted prior to the Kefauver Committee’s 1960 Senate investigation, which exposed corruption in boxing, led to Frankie Carbo’s further indictment and incarceration, and not coincidentally included Jake LaMotta’s testimony that he had thrown the Billy Fox fight in exchange for a title fight.

 
 
 
Coming soon: The King of Comedy (1982)
 
 
 
 
 
1 It’s admittedly only the kernel of an idea at this point, but I’ll be interested to note later on how that arc informs Scorsese’s treatment of the, shall we say, nontraditional mobs of Gangs of New York and The Departed.

2 Broadly speaking, pretty much everyone is a lesser fighter than Sugar Ray Robinson was, but Billy Fox brought a record of 42-1-0 into the ring against LaMotta when they fought at the Garden. While the film depicts Fox as a tomato can for dramatic effect, eight of his nine career losses and his only draw came after he fought LaMotta, over the last 25 months and 14 fights of his 48-9-1 career. Make of that precipitous post-LaMotta decline what you will.

3 Though it does occur to me now that by 1964 LaMotta had already stood up to Frankie Carbo by testifying before the Kefauver Committee, much as Terry had stood up to Johnny Friendly at the end of Waterfront. So that’s at least one point in both LaMotta’s and Scorsese’s favor here.

Written by Shepcat

August 8, 2014 at 6:26 pm