So I went on this film course and the teacher was all enthusiastic about not only script writing, but directing, and he got all excited about the possibilities of visual storytelling and how the power of the medium could spark the emotions and motivate people.
One of the films he was jumping up and down about was Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. The movie is about the low life Italian American boxer Jake La Motta. Its filmed in black and white and like so many of Scorsese’s movies it’s pretty gritty. In fact, its not just gritty its violent, sexy, gruesome and grotesque. Jake LaMotta is a sleazeball if every there was one. He makes it big, then loses everything because of his gambling, womanizing and links with the underworld.
But there’s some choice stuff in it and the overall power of the film is in the portrayal of a fallen man who “coulda been a contender”. What I remember from the film class is that the teacher played the fight sequences from Raging Bull.
They were brutal, but filmed in black and white with much of it in slow motion, you saw the lip split, the blood rush, the black eye, the bruised body, the sweat and the spittle, the tears and the terror of boxing. It was real and the battle was harsh.
But. And here’s the beautiful “but” :
Scorsese has the brilliance to film and edit the fight sequences like some kind of curious ballet. The fighters dance around one another, then end in a clinch. They swing and connect and connect and duck. They dance back and forward in counterpoise like some primitive savages around a fire. Then the slow motion sequences make it even more dance like–the danse macabre–then the killer came when the teacher pointed out something that none of the rest of us picked up.
The score of music behind the balletic boxing was a slow orchestral version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The brilliance of this is breathtaking. Scorsese knew that the classic song so full of longing and sung by that little girl would have registered in the minds and memories of the audience.
What was the overall effect? The boxing was portrayed as a beautiful battle. There was something beautiful in the battle itself, and beneath it all the child like longing for “a land that I dreamed of once in a lullaby.”
I remembered this today as I spent the day hearing confessions. I was in there from ten to five and it was a steady stream of penitents–ordinary men and women, boys and girls who humbly came to engage in the battle. Some with great struggles, some with small, but all of them full of faith and hope and trust that, as Samwise says, “There’s some good in the world Mr Frodo, and its worth fighting for.”
It’s the beautiful battle, and if you have not his to fight for what have you left by empty treasure chests and shallow dreams that end at last in waking on a cold, dark morning.