Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Robert De Niro's Raging Bull: The History of a Performance and a Performance of History

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Robert De Niro's Raging Bull: The History of a Performance and a Performance of History

Article excerpt

Résumé: Cet article fait une utilisation des archives de Robert De Niro, récemment acquises par le Harry Ransom Center, pour fournir une analyse théorique et historique de la contribution singulière de l'acteur au film Raging Bull (Martin Scorcese, 1980). En utilisant les notes considérables de De Niro, cet article désire montrer que le travail de cheminement du comédien s'est étendu de la pré à la postproduction, ce qui est particulièrement bien démontré par la contribution significative mais non mentionnée au générique, de l'acteur au scénario. La performance de De Niro brouille les frontières des classes de l'auteur, de la « star » et du travail de collaboration et permet de faire un portrait plus nuancé du travail de réalisation d'un film. Cet article dresse le catalogue du processus, durant près de six ans, entrepris par le comédien pour jouer le rôle du boxeur Jacke LaMotta : De la phase d'écriture du scénario à sa victoire aux Oscars, en passant par l'entrainement d'un an à la boxe et par la prise de soixante livres. Enfin, en se fondant sur des données concrètes qui sont restées jusqu'à maintenant inaccessibles, en raison de la modestie et du désir du comédien de conserver sa vie privée, cet article apporte une nouvelle perspective pour considérer la contribution importante de De Niro à l'histoire américaine du jeu d'acteur.

In 2007, Robert De Niro donated his career's worth of scripts, costumes, memos and research materials to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The Robert De Niro Papers are a veritable gold mine of yet-untapped data, revealing long-sought details about the actor's intensive process. While De Niro may have begun his career under the tutelage of Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan, the intensity and commitment that De Niro brought to his portrayal of Jake La Motta in Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980) transformed method acting into something wholly his own, while setting a new standard for screen performance. As the papers reveal, De Niro's famous weight gain was only one aspect of this comprehensive process, which lasted nearly six years and extended into the film's lengthy pre-production. Until principal photography, De Niro supervised almost every aspect of the movie, rewriting various drafts of the script as well as training as a boxer at the hands of the man he was supposed to play.

The ongoing (and rising) prominence of Raging Bull as a canonical American film prompts us not only to trace its history through the lens of De Niro's significant participation but to assess how the actor's records expand our contemporary notions of artistic collaboration within the movies. Scratching the surface of De Niro's papers, costumes and correspondence is a daunting task, especially considering that the paper archive alone possesses "one hundred and seventy boxes, sixty oversize boxes, two hundred and seventy four bound volumes, eleven oversize folders for a total of 137.5 linear feet of paperwork." l While we have long guessed about the intricacies of Robert De Niro's intense preparation, only now do we have a primary record of what this process entails. Thus, the De Niro papers can change our conceptions of collaboration, film acting, and De Niro's substantial contribution to moviemaking over the past forty years.

The Raging Bull file in the Harry Ransom Center contains the actor's personal record of his long process. Each of the boxes holds pieces of a much larger story, arranged chronologically and telling an unfiltered and unequivocal version of the film's making. The archive holds De Niro's own heavily marked copy of Jake LaMotta's memoir, Raging Bull: My Story which was sent to the actor by the fighter. It also contains Martin Scorsese's and editor Thelma Schoonmacher's original storyboards that accompany the shooting script, endless script revisions, as well as the congratulatory telegrams and notes following the actor's Academy Award win. In between, the twelve boxes of materials contain almost every newspaper reference to La Motta's career, scorecards provided from old fans, the boxer's personal family album, letters from Vikki La Motta, Al Pacino, and Meryl Streep, as well as depositions from La Motta's rape trial and the lawsuit brought against De Niro by Joey La Motta. …

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