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Raging Bull: The style of fight scenes


Raging Bull: Preparing to shoot in black and white
Michael Chapman Film-maker
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Boxing was a black and white sport because, you know, in our youth and childhood, the Friday night fights on television... there were boxing every Friday night, and it was a big thing to watch, and that of course was black and white, and the photography of the fights – famous photographs in Life Magazine and other things – were all in black and white, so that... so that boxing was definitely thought of in our memories and in our... not just in our childhood but in our association... totally in our association, boxing was a black and white sport. So it seemed perfectly reasonable to shoot it in black and white, and we looked at a lot of old boxing movies – you know, City for Conquest and a lot of black... simply black and white... famous black and white movies of one kind or another – and thought about them and talked and... I... I don't know why I wasn't as frightened as... by then I sort of hoped that I knew what I was doing, and I don't know why I wasn't as frightened by the black and whiteness as I perhaps should have been. Gordy [Gordon Willis] had done a movie in black and white – he'd done Manhattan – and he had had trouble with the lab, and so I... and I knew about that.  Black and white stock is much more brittle and harder than color stock, and thus as it comes... as it unwinds, much more likely to cause static and when they were sent to the labs, unless you put guns to their head and told them to unwind it very, very slowly onto the cores...

Gordy had a lot of trouble with static, so I... I was aware of that and knew what to do, and I don't know why I wasn't... I wasn't so terrified by the black and white, but it seemed... I can't even remember whether I did tests and things but... I'm sure I did some tests for the lab, but I can't remember whether I did extensive tests to see if I knew what I was doing... I don't think I did, and we just did it, and it turned out okay. I remember agonizing sort of whether I would use Double X or Plus X and it seems to me that I used Double X on Raging Bull and Plus X on Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which seems perverse but I did. I would have thought I'd go the other way but I must have had some... at least some half-assed reason for doing it, but I remember very specifically deciding to do Double X not Plus X, and I was very lucky in that I had my old friend Dicky Quinlan as the gaffer, even though that most of the movie was ended up being done out here, and Eddie Quin the grip, and they were able to... mostly through Marty's [Martin Scorsese] raising one thing or another, we got them to be able to work out here although they weren't in the unions here; they got... and we got them in the unions here, actually, and that was a great blessing because they were old friends and we had done the New York part together and we just set out and did it, you know. We were guided by old... one of the nice things about black and white is that... after all, black and white goes all the way back to... to Méliès and the very beginning of... of movies and the great backlog of movies is black and white, and you think that you are in touch with... you know, that you're going all the way back to the soul of movies when you do black and white, and so in a way it's... it's very encouraging. And it's also liberating to do black and white because black and white is inherently more abstract than color, because, unless you are color-blind, you see the world in color – you don't see it in black and white – and so therefore black and white is one step removed from reality anyway, and that's a relief in a curious way. You can do more... more what you want and you are not... you are not at all hampered by... by reality, you know. The light can come from where it wants for your purposes since it's inherently abstract and unreal, and I found that very comforting.

Michael Chapman (1935-2020), an American cinematographer, had a huge influence on contemporary film-making, working on an impressive array of classic films including 'Taxi Driver', 'Raging Bull', 'The Lost Boys' and 'The Fugitive'.

Listeners: Glen Ade Brown

British Director of Photography and Camera Operator Glen Ade Brown settled in Los Angeles 10 years ago.

He has been working on features, commercials and reality TV. He played an instrumental role in the award-winning ABC Family series "Switched" and is also a recipient of the Telly and the Cine Golden Eagle awards for Best Cinematography. He was recently signed by the Judy Marks Agency and is now listed in her commercial roster.

Tags: City for Conquest, Raging Bull, Manhattan, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, Gordon Willis, Richard Quinlan, Martin Scorsese, Ed Quinn, George Méliès

Duration: 4 minutes, 15 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008