Raging Bull: American Minotaur

<i>Raging Bull:</i> American Minotaur

We never see him again, the solitary hooded specter of the opening credits, at least not like this—lithe and limber, shadowboxing, dancing from foot to foot in slow motion, bobbing and ducking through the smoky half-light, the loose cord of his leopard robe swinging behind him like a tail. His movement is so mesmeric, the music so graceful, that we don’t notice the flashbulbs at first, or the ropes—or that this is a ring, that he is pacing the bounds of a cage.

What we see next is very different. The on-screen title reads: “New York City, 1964.” We are in a shabby backstage room, brightly lit by the one bare bulb that works—a low mirror over the chipped white dressing table with its piles of old newspapers, box of tissues, ashtray. Framed between the black telephone on the wall to his right and the black stove on his left, a fat man stands, prematurely aged, constrained in a bad tux, gesturing with his cigar, reciting doggerel: “I remember those cheers, they still ring in my ears, and for years they remain in my thoughts, ’cause one night I took off my robe—and what’d I do? I forgot to wear shorts . . .” He tries to get his cigar lit. “And though I’m no Olivier, if you fought Sugar Ray, you would say that the thing ain’t the ring, it’s the play. So give me a stage where this bull here can rage, and though I can fight, I’d much rather recite . . .” He stretches out his arms in a cruciform finale: “That’s entertainment.” We get a close shot that allows us to study him as he pauses, looking down: his damaged face, the scarred, swollen nose. A clarifying title comes up underneath, reading, “Jake La Motta, 1964”—then there’s a jump-cut to a young boxer on the ropes, looking up, titled “Jake La Motta, 1941,” and we hear his “That’s entertainment” repeated, extending over the cut, before an explosion of sound as the fighter takes a series of fierce punches to the face.

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