The Michigan Daily Saturday, January 17, 1981
Raving cinematic skill,
but what else?
By DENNIS HARVEY
Martin Scorcese's Raging Bull is a
trivial film by a great filmmaker, daz-
ing in every way that finally doesn't
ount for much. Stunningly glib, it'a so
drunk on its seductive imagery and
every-trick-in-the-book ingenuity that it
forgets about its characters, story,
point. Oh, they're all there, and
right-but you react to the gleeful
fireworks of the directorial cleverness,
to the all-too-clearly-placed Get This
statements, rather than to figures un-
derstood and/or liked. The characters
stay characters, never graduating to
humanity. What does all this technique
ave to do with the Jake La Motta
I like being assaulted by visual inven-
tiveness, no matter how incongruous or
derivative or independent of subject'
matter it is. And I liked Raging Bull,
but finally on the level that one might
like a good circa-1935 Busby Berkeley
musical-the production numbers were
a great popcorn fantasy fix, and the
padding in-between, if pretty glib on
lose scrutiny, at least had enough slap
o keep things moving..
THE SUBSTITUTES for musical
numbers in Raging Bull, the stoay of
champ middleweight boxer Jake La
Motta, are La Motta's major fights
in the 1940's: slowed-down, balletic,
jazzily edited danscesn macabre; each
cutting with arrestingly self-conscious
ease from the comic to the ethereal to
the appalling. Blood spurts in graceful
live-wire arcs from battered combat-
ants, and it's all too beautifully con-
rived to be particularly grotesque or
frightening, despite the current rants of
protest supposedly being tossed toward
the film's violence.
There's a limit to this cinematic
resourcefulness, however. The movie is
officially' about a Neanderthal man
adrift in a modern world; 'a person ex-
traordinary in his physical/mental
pummelling of others in a blind
E truggle to the top.
But the niethods which pushed him
forward- can only lead him to a
degrading fall from grace of his more
civilized surroundings. Scorcese seems
successfully eludes his subject but still
thinks he's duped us into believing that
he's brilliantly addressed it.
The rest of the film is on a similar, if
less immediately striking, level, La
Motta's rise and fall in the scrungier
sections of N.Y.C. are charted ith an
immaculate nouveau-chil eye for
fusing glamorous artifice with
decumentary detail, so you think you're
seeing the latter while enjoying the
former unawares. Welding the hand-
held believability of old newsreels with
the chi-chic Hollywood-bizarre dream-
scapes of films by experimental directr
Rufus B. Seder and David Lynch
(Eraserhead), Raging Bull is as tidily
conceived in its "grittiness" as in the
more overtly stylish scenes. Life isn't
the movies. Scorcese may think he's
made a movie about life (I doubt he
really does, though), but he's made a
movie about The Movies instead.
IT'S FUN! But it's also a cunning
cheat, as calculatedly "spontaneous"
and "natural" as (on the other side of
the stylistic range) the Sparseness-Is-
Truth decorousness of that other of-
ficial Serious American Film of 1980,
Robert Redford's Ordinary People.
We never get to know the only three
characters who are seen in more than
guest-appearance form-La Motta
(Robert De Niro), his wife Vicki (Cathy
Moriarity) and long-suffering
brother/manager Joey (Joe P.esci).
Cathy Moriarity definitely makes an
impression as platinum-blonde baby
doll Vicki, but the rumble that races
through the audience upon her
smouldering by-the-poolside arrival
eventually fades to mumbled
frustration, because Scorcese never
explores any further this intriguing
teen-angel/movie siren facade. When
Jake's dumb-animal jealousy and
suspicion toward her makes Vicki's life
hellish, Moriarty neatly manages to
convince us that for all of her sultry
cool Vicki is a blamelessly faithful and.
calm-centered wife. But we never find
out why. Vicki is on screen too much
for her essential vagueness to remain
ignored. Scorcese never thinks out her
madonna/whore freeze-dried ear-
thiness, so the actress is stuck trying to
flesh out a muddled enigma.
JOE PESCI is allowed a pug sense of
humor that makes Joey the most com-
plete character, but what Robert De
Niro does here is as deceptive as what
Scorcese does, on a more masochistic
level. He sinks so far into the role that
he loses touch with the audience-it's a
form of mad-genius exhibitionism, the
textbook Method purging of inner
demons. And De Niro sure can dredge
those demons up, with such alarming
eagerness that it all begins to seem per-
Going from taut, swaggering young-
manhood to credibly gross fat-old-
manhood (the actor actually gained the
many needed pounds), he strikes every
conceivably nuance without making us
ever understand, care for, or even hate
Jake. It's logical that a movie movie
would have acting for acting's sake.
Raging Bull is a film noir without the
heart of darkness. Without any center,.
really, aside from the director's
prankish joy in the medium, which is
masked in a pose of sham seriousness..
The passion that marks a real master-
piece, the feeling of intense iden-
tification between artist and work, is
only another feigned attitude here.
Scorcese is so set on doing impressive
gymnastics with the form, on proving
his own greatness, that he side-steps
commitment and substance. This isn't
enough to make Raging Bull the'great
film it stamps itself as. But is a year as
dismal for movies as 1980, judging from
the general raving critical and lay-
response, perhaps it almost had to be
he ann arbor
7:00 & 10:20 MLB 4
8:40 MLB 4
SINGLE FEATURE: $2
DOUBLE FEATURE: $3
If Fay Wray were screaming from his right glove and biplanes were encir-
cling his wrists, the image would be complete. Robert De Niro plays 1940s
middleweight fighter Jake La Motta in Martin Scorcese's 'Raging Bull'.
to have planned the film as an ex-
plosive, lined with a faint macho
respect of such brute strength, of the
lines and unattractiveness hidden
behind the great American (and im-
migrant) myth of masculine force; you
can see the clearly planted sprouts of
Meaning leading toward this central
BUT WHY DO the fight scenes have
no real horror or thematic charge? It's
because they, like everything else here,
are foremost demonstrations of media
virtuosity and lastly, (if ever) integral
to what Raging Bull pretends to be
about. Each Big Moment is frilly,
musical, designed to wow us with
technique, and disconnected from
everything else. The sour aftertaste
here comes from the fact that Scorcese
Dir. Stanley Kubrick. With JACK NICHOLSON. SHELLEY DUVALL, SCATMAN
CROTHERS. An emotionally vacuous pop, a mousey mom and a psychically
gifted son are stranded (for money), in a Colorado ski resort for the winter and
a chillingly abrupt breakdown of the central family results. The hotel is bad
news and seems to enjoy making its guests go splaky in the head. Crazed
violence bursts forth when all work and no play make Jack a dull boy and an ex-
tremely threatening man. In this case, blood-letting is not therapeutic.
Shows at 4:00, 7:00 & 9:45 at LORCH HALt. of Horrors.
CINEMA GUILD-Wendy, I'm Home!
Gimme an A*
Gimme an 1 l... L ...Y *
Give the MICHIGAN DAILY
that old college try.
CALL'764-0558 to order your subscription
games with Dratman
By NANCY BILYEAU
Theatre groups are a dime a dozen in
Ann Arbor-right? There are always
good, gutsy plays being performer off
campus that really make you Think.
Plenty of way out directors and actors,
a playwright behind every
Just ask Andrea Gonzales or Ted
Levine of the new Dratman Theatre
Company. They'll tell you a different
*&tory. Armed with the works of Sam
Shepard, Gonzales (producer) and
Levine (director) launched on a
mission this fall: to bring modern
theatre to Ann Arbor.
ALL ASSUMPTIONS and presum-
ptions aside, it hasn't been too easy. Not
the way you think. Not the way they'd
In an interview with the Daily, Levine
evaluated his past few months with
Dra'tman (formerly It's All One
layers). He's a professional actor,
een out of school a while, done
Gonzales, Residential College junior,
fresh out of the RC Brecht Company,
called her friend Levine last August to
join her in starting a theatre company.
They'd do modern stuff, real weird, ab-
stract theatre that other literates were
mulling over in studio apartments
across the country.
* They picked Action, a one-act
Shepard play, for their debut. When
asked to discuss the plot and charac-
ters, producer and director looked at
each other and smiled. Apparently, Ac-
tion is not easily explained.
SHEPARD S PLAYS are "a stream
of consciousness," said Levine. In his
plays, Shepard "brings everything out
into the open so that it appears ab-
"Action is an apocalyptic sort of
thing," he added. Shepard asks many
questions that do not necessarily have
answers. "He brings out"-Levine
pauses-"why things are so hard."
Shepard's way of "bringing out" his
views of American life often take
brutally shocking form. In Action, a
raw fish is ripped apart on stage, in
Buried Child, Shepard's Pulitzer Prize
winner, the skeleton of a dead baby is
shown to the audience.
REACTIONS TO Action? "People
were a little awed," Levine recalled.
"You'd run into them at parties and
they'd say, "God, it was great-what
did it mean?"
The production Levine, Gonzales, and
company are currently working on, The
Curse of the Starving Class, is repor-
tedly less absurd. "It's got more of a
plot," Gonzales said. But like most
Shepard creations defies description.
You have to experience it.
The company has run into more
snags with this production. Casting
wasn't too difficult. Gonzales and
Levine have tried to attrack "serious,
professional people-every actor sick
of candy-ass productions." Apparently
such humans do exist and are
WHAT'S CAUSED headaches is fin-
ding a place to stage Starving Class.
Canterbury Loft was all booked up.
Contract problems and cancellations
emerged from an arrangement with the
Residential College. Gonzales finally
settled on the School of Education
auditorium for which they have to cope
with inferior lighting and the man-
datory presence of a security guard.
And then there's the small matter of
money. In lieu of an Ann Arbor General
Culture Fund, Gonzales has been trying
to secure the means by which to stretch
their small production budget.
Not surprisingly, such support has
been elusive. UAC was willing to lend a
hand, but for a price-turning The Cur-
se of the Starving Class into dinner
theatre. Levine declined.
RIGHT NOW funds are coming out of
company pockets while Gonzales waits
for the Michigan Council for the Arts to
respond to negotiations.
In spite of such setbacks, Levine and
Gonzales appear guardedly- optimistic.
They started nicely with Action, a
small, avante-garde piece which few
people understood and did very well.
Now, with Starving Class, a full-length
production with nine characters plus
scenery, they hope to keep themselves
working, visible, serious, and above
all-respected. No one can accuse the
Dratman Theatre Company at this
early date of selling out.
Levine spoke with some scorn of
other forms of Ann Arbor theatre. "I
hear they turn Shakespeare into
shtick," he said of the University
Theatre Department. "It's sad that you
have to do that in order to produce
Will there be life after The Curse of
the Starving Class? It looks like it.
Levine is very much interested in for-
ming a play-reading committee to scan
new works. He encourages all those
bearing manuscripts to think of him.
As for future productions, Levine has
hopes for Shakespeare in the spring.
"Maybe Twelfth Night in the Ar-
boretum," he said wistfully.
Aige CaK *F