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Raging Bull as Verismo opera

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Raging Bull: Shooting techniques and Jake La Motta
Michael Chapman Film-maker
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What is obviously the case is that Jake was in charge of the world and very... and everything was wonderful and elaborate and he was the king when he was in the ring, and when he was outside the ring he was hopeless, a mess as a person, so we shot it that way. In the ring it's extremely elaborate and full of all sorts of camera tricks and moves and everything that we could think of, and then outside the ring much of time it's very, very simple, you know – the camera just sits there and watches two guys... two goombahs in the Bronx arguing in a room and... and the camera doesn't do much; it just sort of sits and watches. And that again was very deliberately done because it was to reflect the different realities of his life – how good he was in the ring and how awful he was out of it. And he was, by the way... he was a oaf as a person... oh God, he was around a lot just sitting around, and he'd get up and say, 'It wasn't like... no, no', and he'd walk to the set and poor Marty [Martin Scorsese] would have to try and get him out, and once we were sitting outside a stage in... in Culver City and he was sitting outside and some teamsters were playing catch with a football, and they're throwing, and Jake was sitting there taking the sun like that, and one of the teamsters threw and it was an errant pass and it hit Jake in the head, you know, and he went... and then he went right back to sleep, because it was nothing to Jake. The poor embarrassed teamster picked the ball up and sort of slunk off, but it was nothing to Jake which... Oh God. And we... you know, I mean all the things that are sort of, I guess, famous for Raging Bull, we did very consciously and with... with forethought and for... to a purpose.

For instance, there's a wonderful scene when he sees Vicky at the... at a dance, and when he looks at her, it's in slow motion, and then when everything... whenever it's not his point of view, it's in... in regular motion, and it's really... it seems to me it works perfectly, it's absolutely heartbreaking – he sees her and he's madly in love and she's just this floating beautiful object, and when you cut around, it's all this sort of chaos of this Italian village dancing: everybody's having fights and yelling and screaming; and... and then she just... and she sails away with the goombahs and walks down... down the stairs in slow motion, and he runs after her, and then again she drives away... this unobtainable princess drives away in the... in the car. Oh, it's... and then all the fights and everything explode around him and he's back to 24 frames and it's terribly sad. And we stole from movies: the first... when he first talks to her, he... she's on one side of a fence and he comes up with Joey from the other side of the fence and he talks to her, and Joey comes up and talks to her, and then the camera pans back and sees him, and he comes forward.

And it's all done in one shot, and we stole it from a shot in [The] Rules Of The Game, where they first come to... to the country house, and it's raining and the camera starts... I can't remember whether it starts on the door... no, I guess it starts on the car driving up, and then it pans to the door, and the butler and another servant talk, and then they come out with a... with an umbrella and they bring a person in, and the... the camera just watches and just shows these things happening, and in the course of that, in... in Rules Of The Game, you understand... it tells you volumes about the class distinction between the servants and the masters and which servant is the highest servant, because finally in the end the higher servant carries the umbrella for himself and lets the other servant walk in the rain, and it's all done in just one very simple shot, that just tells you everything you needed to know and is filled with information and... and, you know, minor poetry, but that's why great poets steal; we just stole from that and did exactly the same thing. So the car drives up and you see the car, and it's really a kind of elegant roadster as I remember, and Joey gets out and he walks up and he talks to... to... through the fence, and they talk, and she says, 'Is that your brother?' 'Yeah, you want to meet him?' And then the camera pans back, and Jake gets out of the car and he sort of hitches up his pants and it tells you everything about them, because it's all in one shot, very consciously taken from Rules Of The Game, and who better to steal from, absolutely. And it's... and... we were really... we were not so innocent as we were perhaps on Taxi Driver but we were... we knew what we were doing, you know; we were working at a fairly high level of thought, I think. I say 'we'; I really should be... Marty was, and I was there doing what I could do and helping out, and I think doing a good job. It was... it was a far more examined life than Taxi Driver was.

Michael Chapman, an American cinematographer, has 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: The Rules Of The Game, Raging Bull, Jake La Motta, Martin Scorsese

Duration: 4 minutes, 56 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008