Clint EASTWOOD alreadyhas his Oscar, and I'm sure he won't mind if the AMPAS now corrects its shameful history with Martin Scorsese. Snubbed for Raging Bull, which is included alongside New York, New York, Boxcar Bertha, and The Last Waltz in this Feb. 8 box set, he's overdue for an Academy Award for The Aviator. You get lots of insight into his working methods on the two-disc version of Bull, and learn plenty from his frequent collaborators (Robert De Niro among them).
Apparently, De Niro began obsessively reading about Jake La Motta some six years prior to the film's 1980 release. On his commentary, shared with his Oscar-winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese makes clear that Bull was really De Niro's pet project, not his. What was the appeal of this violent—outside the ring—and masochistically guilt-plagued soul? In an interview, De Niro is typically, willfully vague on the subject. Scorsese says of the pugilist, "We all see parts of ourselves in him." Perhaps alluding to Scorsese's troubled marriage at the time, Schoonmaker observes, "He understood this kind of madness."
It's fascinating to learn how Scorsese generally filmed each take at three camera speeds—producing all those slo-mo shots around the ring (but generally not in it) and to convey La Motta's pathological jealousy when staring at his wife (Cathy Moriarty, who also is interviewed). His sound- effects wizard, Frank Warner, added animal noises to some fights, then showed Scorsese and Schoonmaker how effective the absence of sound can be: Recall the famous silence just before La Motta intentionally allows Sugar Ray Robinson to destroy his face.
Filmed in black and white at least partly to distinguish it from a spate of other boxing flicks that year, Bull was designed to resemble the news photos of Weegee. Cinematographer Michael Chapman explains how old-time flashbulbs, used throughout the picture (and in The Aviator), have a slow decay rate that makes them so photogenic. Like the film, 20 years later, brilliance extends beyond the first explosion.
ALSO OUT Feb. 8, Spike Lee adds a commentary to a two-disc edition of Malcolm X. Still in theaters, Spike & Mike's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation also debuts on DVD. Stephen Fry and a host of Brits appear in the Evelyn Waugh adaptation Bright Young Things. Shark Tale and the insufferably schmaltzy The Notebook will likely have a long life on disc. And Laura Linney, up for a Kinsey Oscar, deserves better than P.S.