Tag Archives: Martin Scorsese

Top 100 Films #63 – Raging Bull (1980)

 

image-w1280-2#63. Raging Bull (1980)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Paul Schrader, Mardrik Martin (based on Raging Bull: My Story by Jake La Motta, Joseph Carter, Peter Savage)
Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty, Nicholas Colasanto

From a classic masterpiece to a slightly more modern one, Raging Bull is almost undeniably Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro’s shining achievement.  The bleak and often tough to watch look at the life of boxer Jake La Motta pulls no punches, but instead acts as an honest critique of the man’s life.  Raging Bull sees the aforementioned Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) as he rises through the ranks boxing in the middleweight division, his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) serving as his manager and assistant.  Jake falls in love with a teenage girl named Vikki (Cathy Moriarty), defeats the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson, being taken seriously as a legitimate fighter.  The film sees Jake La Motta’s intense jealousy over his wife Vikki, his tumultuous relationship with his brother Jake, his rise to title contention, and his very sudden and very sharp fall from grace.  The best part of Raging Bull is just how searing a look at its central figure it is – the man is rarely painted in an overly positive light.  The audience instead has to sit through difficult scenes of the La Motta family embroiled in domestic abuse, familial infighting, corruption, and serious embarrassment by the hands of fate.  Martin Scorsese’s graceful direction of the film is what makes Raging Bull special – he and cinematographer Michael Chapman shoot the movie in beautiful, but grainy, black and white.  The film’s boxing scenes are shot almost like professional ballet by Scorsese and Chapman, with each blow feeling like a true work of art.  It is Scorsese’s direction that gives Raging Bull its immense power over viewers, becoming a beautiful but disturbing look at a man who was no stranger to controversy.  The three lead performances by Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty are incredible, with each actor bringing their own take on the roles.  De Niro’s method acting techniques saw the actor gain a great deal of weight for scenes in Raging Bull’s last act, making it much more powerful and believable than prosthetics ever could.  His intense, angry performance as the jealous and violent La Motta is legendary, and earned De Niro an Academy Award for Best Actor.  Both Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty deliver more down-to-earth and level-headed performances as the two reasonable voices in the ears of Jake La Motta – Pesci being torn between feelings of loyalty and shame for his brother, and Moriarty the unsatisfied, unhappy wife of La Motta.  Worth mentioning also is the editing by Thelma Schoonmaker, which also earned her an Academy Award.  Schoonmaker experiments with slow motion and manipulation of sound during boxing scenes, making them all far more memorable and noteworthy.  Raging Bull is legendary from top to bottom, featuring the greatest modern American director in his prime, three extraordinary performances, and a hell of a script to deliver one of the most honest and painful character studies ever made.  

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Top 100 Films #76 – The King of Comedy (1982)

 

Film Tribeca Closing Night#76. The King of Comedy (1982)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Paul D. Zimmerman
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Tony Randall, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard

Martin Scorsese’s classic tale of a deluded wannabe comedian made an immediate impression with me, exceeding any expectation I held.  The King of Comedy tells the disturbing story of Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), a man obsessed with successful comedian and television host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis).  He fantasizes day and night about Langford launching him to stardom, even though Pupkin has no real comedic leg to stand on.  After facing constant rejection, Rupert decides to kidnap Langford in exchange for ten minutes on his program.  While Scorsese’s film has very funny moments throughout, The King of Comedy is a surprisingly dark affair.  It’s a deeply cynical satirical look at celebrity worship, taking it to numerous extremes.  The script by film critic Paul D. Zimmerman is tremendous, combining a sharp wit with a dark, cynical worldview, and terrific moments of character development.  His Rupert Pupkin is easily one of the most compelling characters ever played by Robert De Niro, who brings a deranged, clueless twist to the role.  His performance holds up the entire film, making the audience fear him and sympathize with him simultaneously.  Jerry Lewis’ performance as Jerry Langford is quite good too, and the fact that his character is hardly phased by anything really adds to the film’s comedic flavor.  My favorite moments in the film are the many times Rupert Pupkin’s name is mispronounced, and the nonchalant way De Niro’s character plays it off.  While The King of Comedy may never reach the dramatic highs of Scorsese’s Raging Bull or Taxi Driver, it serves as a compelling and at times disturbing character study, and its themes of celebrity worship and the desire to become famous really resonate.  

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Black Directors Feature #3 – Touki Bouki (1973)

Touki_Bouki_coverTouki Bouki (1973)
Directed by: Djibril Diop Mambéty
Written by: Djibril Diop Mambéty
Starring: Magaye Niang, Aminata Fall, Ousseynou Diop, Mareme Niang

The next two films in our marathon will very much contrast from our first two American journeys into early blaxploitation.  Instead of the gritty streets of New York City, with undercover police officers, pimps, and drug pushers, we move to the French and Wolof-speaking country of the Republic of Senegal.  Our themes with both Touki Bouki and Xala (the next film in our marathon) are much more political in tone, and the films less action-packed and in-your-face, but just as stylistic and game-changing in their own right.  Our first look at Senegalese cinema comes with Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Touki Bouki, released in 1973.  Though Mambéty may not have been as prolific or even as acclaimed as his contemporary Ousmane Sembene, the influence of Touki Bouki on other black cinema and even Senegalese cinema in general in undeniable, and the film has found a great deal of appreciate in the United States and the rest of the world.  Director Martin Scorsese and his World Cinema Foundation restored the film to its former glory back in 2007, and it has since found its way into the Criterion Collection, a rare feat for a Senegalese (or African in general) film.  The Foundation’s aim is to restore films from areas of the world where cinema has been neglected, in order to raise awareness, appreciation, and understanding for these under-seen masterworks from around the world.  Films from Russia, Mexico, Hong Kong, Brazil, Romania, Turkey, and the Philippines joins Senegal’s Touki Bouki in having the honor of being restored and re-purposed by a loving group of artists at the top of their industry, and thank goodness for them.  Mambéty’s Touki Bouki was initially screened at the prestigious Cannes film festival in 1973, and won the festival’s International Critics Prize from the FIPRESCI (Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique).  On top of being celebrated upon its original release, the film has gone on to become labeled as something of a lost classic.  Director Djibril Diop Mambéty would go on to make a number of films in his home country, but unfortunately would never go on to see the level of success that he saw with the release of Touki Bouki.  He passed away in 1998 at the far too young age of 53, and his films would be mostly ignored by the general public until the World Cinema Foundation stepped in and helped Touki Bouki once again find an international audience.

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Magaye Niang as Mory in Djibril Diop Mambety’s classic Touki Bouki.

Touki Bouki’s story is told in an almost dream-like, not quite linear way. While there is absolutely an overarching story-line throughout the film, the story isn’t exactly the best thing about the film.  Throughout the film, we see Mory (Magaye Niang) and Anta (Mareme Niang) as they meet and talk about ways they can escape to Paris together.  Mory works as a cowherd, and drives a motorcycle with a horned skull proudly displayed between its handlebars.  Both Mory and Anta have been alienated by their lives in Senegal, and no reason but to abandon their responsibilities in their home country and make a break for a relaxed life across the ocean.  With their plans set, both idealistic young people start looking for ways to make money for their voyage.  Eventually, Mory plots to steal the money from a wealthy gay man, and the two young Senegalese idealists are one step closer to freedom.  Unfortunately for both of them, leaving the country proves to be more difficult than expected, both on a physical and mental level.  Will young Mory and Anta throw caution to the wind in order to start new lives abroad, or will the familiarity and comfort of their lives at home in Senegal prove to be too much to leave?  Find out in Djibril Diop Mambéty’s 1973 classic, Touki Bouki.

As a young film-goer growing up in an incredible period of time for our access to media of all nations, ages, and content, I’m incredibly thankful to have people like Martin Scorsese and company at the World Cinema Foundation.  The fact that Touki Bouki has seen moderate success in North America decades after its disappearance is incredibly comforting to me, and I hope that organizations such as the WCF will learn from it in the future.  Though Touki Bouki may not be the greatest film I’ve ever seen, nor can I relate with it on more than a base human level, I’m incredibly happy to have seen it.  The film is a beautiful display of the idealistic nature of young people worldwide, and an interesting look at loneliness and a yearning for more.  It features bright and vivid cinematography, and shows off the work of a director who I wish (for slightly selfish reasons) had become more successful throughout his short career.  It may be deliberately paced and something of a drag in its lingering moments, but it more than makes up for it with its odd set-pieces of Mory and Anta driving by motorcycle (and later a very nice car) through the city and countryside, and the nature of its contrasting themes of young life, death, and the desire to take part in something bigger and better.  We see animals people slaughtered by villagers contrasted with the dull everyday city life of young Mory, and while it may be visceral and disturbing at times, it’s undoubtedly compelling and interesting.  The film’s soundtrack is very effective in its sparing use, and the repetition of Josephine Baker’s classic “Paris…Paris” repeated over and over throughout the runtime is both joyful and welcoming, while also being frustrating and grating on the viewer.  It’s clear that the director took a great deal of influence from the French New Wave movement in 1960’s France, and he does his best to make the frantic style his own through the film’s more daring moments.  It’s difficult to write about Touki Bouki on more than a surface level, because the nature of Mambéty’s film is so incredibly personal.  I can’t say I’m an expert on Senegal’s political scene in the 1970’s, nor can I completely relate to the wants and needs of young Senegalese people of the time, but I still managed to get a lot of the film’s central idea and the plot which conveys those ideas.  You can feel the frustration and longing for more throughout the whole film, which is something that most everybody can relate to.

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Mory (Magaye Niang) and Anta (Mareme Niang) riding the famous bull skull motorcycle in 1973’s Touki Bouki.

Touki Bouki is a joyous and incredibly fun example of just how exciting and different world cinema can be.  I’m incredibly thankful for those who saw worth in the movie’s messages and the way in which is gets them across to the viewer, and I hope young people everywhere discover it and appreciate it in their own way.  It’s a beautiful film both literally and thematically, uses subtle, but effective, comedy to push the idealistic story forward, and has a lot to say about both loneliness and the struggles that young people across the world face when trying to find themselves.  It’s bright and colorful, has a fun and catchy (if repetitive) soundtrack, and can be related with on a basic level whether you’re 15 or 75.  Touki Bouki is a film I’m incredibly glad to have seen, and one that I hope finds more and more success as historians analyse and re-appropriate its significance.  Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Touki Bouki is recommended for all.

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