Tag Archives: Raging Bull

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #22 – MARTIN SCORSESE

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #22 – MARTIN SCORSESE

Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.
— Martin Scorsese

I recently had a three-week career break while I was looking for a new job. I have since gratefully located employment and that would explain why I have not been as active on this blog as before. Because looking for work is more time consuming than an actual job! Anyway, aside from spending the day on the computer searching for gainful employment I also caught up on some TV shows and films that had been on my planner for a while. One of the those I watched was the HBO produced TV drama called VINYL (2016). Created, directed (first episode only) and produced by, among others, Martin Scorsese.

Vinyl (2016) was an incendiary, nostalgic and snorting cavalcade of 1970’s rock and roll music centred around a drug addicted record executive, portrayed by Bobby Cannavale, whose business and personal life are collapsing due to his addictive and self-destructive behaviour. Overall, the ten episodes were scintillating entertainment: loud, over-the-top, ballsy, in-your-face and darkly hilarious. The characters were despicable scumbags at best, yet Scorsese’s sensational style ensures the audience enthusiastically rubber-necks these human car crashes.

Alas, due to low ratings, poor critical response and the huge budget, HBO did not renew Vinyl (2016) for a second season. Thus, Scorsese’s blistering TV rock and roll creation was no more. However, in my latest piece in the My Cinematic Romance series, I have selected five of Scorsese cinematic classics. I could’ve, of course, chosen many, many more but have challenged myself to pick only ONE film from each of the last five decades of the master filmmaker Martin Scorsese. Don’t worry Marty – I thought Vinyl (2016) absolutely rocked. F*ck the critics! You are a true genius.


Vinyl – Co-Creator/Executive Producer Mick Jagger with Bobby Cannavale and Co-Creator/Executive Producer/Director of Pilot of Martin Scorsese on the set ©2016 HBO, photo by Niko Tavernise

TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Paul Schrader’s incredible screenplay about a lost soul travelling the mean streets of New York while on the edge of insanity, is given dark life by Scorsese’s evocative direction and Robert DeNiro’s fearless performance. One of the most memorably nightmarish thrillers and character studies of the 1970s; a period which arguably represents the most exceptional decade of American cinema. Having both the writer and director admit to substance addiction in the 1970’s, lends further to the monstrously illusory vision of urban decay within the pores of this amazing work of cinema.



RAGING BULL (1980)

Boxing champion Jake La Motta represented another morally complex vision of masculinity in crisis for both Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese. Both in and out of the ring he is man in pain who hurts those he loves and, above all else, himself. Each battering jab and uppercut and hook is felt by the audience via incredible editing and sound design. Overall, Scorsese delivers a brutal profile in stark black-and-white and a knockout box of cinematic tricks. Unsurprisingly, DeNiro won a Best Acting Oscar at the 1981 Academy Awards. Rather surprisingly, Ordinary People (1980) was winner of Best Picture. Go figure!



GOODFELLAS (1990)

As far back as I can remember, this has been one of my favourite films of all time. Ray Liotta’s voiceover introduces and tells the story of the rise and fall of gangster, Henry Hill, while expertly supported by Scorsese’s selection of memorable shots, music and sequences. Further, Scorsese’s major skill here is too, is to make us both enamoured and disgusted by the actions of these charismatic criminals and killers. There are so many classic scenes in this incredible epic and the cast of Liotta, DeNiro and scene-stealing, Joe Pesci, make it one of those films that can be watched over and over. Did I forget to mention that it also has one of the greatest cinema soundtracks ever!



THE DEPARTED (2006)

A truly remarkable remake of Infernal Affairs (2002), the film is shot and edited, as expected, with immaculate precision; crammed with unrelenting and bone-crushing thrills and violence. Thematically, it’s powerful too. Throughout, honesty and truth are obliterated by lies and death. Costigan and Sullivan are no more than pawns at the hands of a corrupt system that lets people down from a great height. This is literally the case where Martin Sheen’s Captain Queenan is concerned. An immense cast including DiCaprio, Damon, Wahlberg and scenery-chewing, Jack Nicholson, take a twisting Kafkaesque plot where criminals and cops collide; ultimately chasing their shadows and souls to a treacherous, bloody and bitter end.



THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013)

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) feels like a greatest hits package combining all of the finer ingredients from Scorsese’s other films. You’ve got the classic swooning camera moves; the direct address to camera; cat-and-dog couples fighting as seen in Casino (1995) and Goodfellas (1990); the boat-in-peril sequence as seen in Cape Fear (1991); the multi-character voiceovers; the dumb criminals putting themselves in the shit; characters turning on each other and ratting each other out as seen in The Departed (2006); plus many more. But whereas Scorsese used to deal with outsiders, oddballs and working class criminals like Travis Bickle, Rupert Pupkin or Henry Hill, he presents via Jordan Belfort a white-collar criminal and venal member of the “Master-Race”, getting his just desserts in an incendiary morality tale of major power.


UNDER-RATED CLASSICS #8 – THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980)

UNDER-RATED CLASSICS #8 – THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980)

Directed, written and produced by: William Peter Blatty

Based on The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty

Starring: Stacy Keach, Scott Wilson, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders, Robert Loggia, Moses Gunn, Joe Spinell, Neville Brand etc.

Music by: Barry De Vorzon

Cinematography: Gerry Fisher

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”
― Edgar Allan Poe

Sparked by uber-film critic Mark Kermode waxing lyrical about The Ninth Configuration (1980) in one of his cinema books, I was extremely pleased when I found a remastered 2016 reissue streaming on Amazon Prime. I don’t always agree with Kermode’s effusive praise of certain films, however, his opinion should always be respected. Having watched the film I can concur that it is indeed an under-rated classic. Just to clarify, for me, an under-rated classic can be a film I love, plus satisfy the following criteria:

  1. Must not have won an Oscar.
  2. Must not have won a BAFTA.
  3. Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
  4. Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
  5. Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
  6. Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.

While the writer and director, William Peter Blatty, won a Golden Globe for best screenplay, I feel that The Ninth Configuration (1980) is somewhat of a lost masterpiece. It was released at the same time as Ordinary People (1980) , The Elephant Man (1980) and Raging Bull (1980) and rarely seems to be discussed or praised at all these days. Well, aside from Mark Kermode’s gratefully received validation. Thematically, it is very strong as it deals with mental breakdown and illness amidst soldiers post-Vietnam. Moreover, it also contains memorable iconography within a curiously foreboding setting.



Based on Blatty’s 1978 novel, which in itself was a reworking of an earlier story called, Twinkle, Twinkle “Killer” Kane, The Ninth Configuration centres the action in a grand chateau located, rather weirdly in America somewhere. The dark, shadowy castle (which was actually in Germany), is surrounded by deep forestation and is used by the U.S. government as an insane asylum for military personnel. Spring-boarding themes and ideas from movies such as: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Mash (1970) and, in regards to its exploration of P.T.S.D., The Deer Hunter (1978), the narrative features a whole host of eccentric and over-the-edge characters. They include an Astronaut, Captain Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson), who went mad and sabotaged a space launch, Jason Miller as Lieutenant Frankie Reno, a soldier attempting to direct Hamlet with a cast of dogs; and the recently arrived, new psychiatrist, Colonel Vincent Kane (Stacey Keach). It is Kane’s and Cutshaw’s developing relationship which powers many of the philosophical and existential debates within the film’s incredible script.

For a film set in an asylum Blatty unsurpisingly uses dark humour, hysterical personalities and some incredibly funny lines of dialogue to propel an absurd first half. However, as Cutshaw and Kane’s connection grows deeper, the two men push each other into some very dark places. Exploring the slight gap between insanity and sanity is a tricky thing to get right in terms of tone, however, Blatty, is a brilliant writer and succeeds with a script that zig-zags the line between chaos and structure. He also benefits from an amazing ensemble cast of character actors who throw themselves heartily into the chaos on show. Scott Wilson and Stacey Keach are especially memorable in their intense and honest portrayals of soldiers pushed too far by their respective commands.

Overall, The Ninth Configuration (1980) is a forgotten masterpiece which deserves revisiting. I was blown away by the endlessly quotable dialogue and the risks Blatty took as a director. I mean, he opens with an incongruous Country and Western song-backed montage before the credits. This pop video beginning is jarring, but somehow makes sense in the end. Blatty then veers between farcical humour, crazed episodes involving the lunatics taking over the asylum, and philosophical and theological discourse within the therapy sessions. Finally, the film finishes with a violent and cathartic denouement, yet one which, given the dark existentialism that has unfolded, is amazingly full of hope, faith and optimism.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11




MOVIN ON UP; Music to play at my funeral by Paul Laight

MOVIN ON UP; Music to play at my Funeral by Paul Laight

When I shuffle off this coil thingy and my strange life has come to an end I would like these songs played at my funeral please. I’m not dying by the way but I just thought I’d write this down now while it’s on my mind.

1. Con te partirò (Time to say goodbye) – Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman

I first heard this song in an episode of The Sopranos and it is truly incredible. It just has a very simple hook and is beautifully sung by Bocelli and Brightman. Perhaps it’s too grand for a basic bloke who grew up in Battersea but I like its simplicity and wonder.

2. There is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths

The Smiths are probably my favourite band ever and I would like to pay tribute to them. I love this song as the lyrics are both poignant and morbidly funny to me. If buried I would also like the phrase “Here lies the late Paul Laight who Started Something He Couldn’t Finish!” Another nod to Morrissey and Marr and quite fitting I think.

3. Light My Fire by The Doors

I’m a massive fan of The Doors psychedelic 60s rock blues and I’d like this song played if I am cremated. I considered The Doors’ song The End but that’s a bit depressing so this song works better for humorous and uplifting purposes.

4. Intermezzo – Pietro Mascagni (opening theme from Raging Bull)

As a film geek I wanted some classical music to play as I am sent from and into the Earth. I thought about using something by Ennio Morricone or even The Terminator theme song and maybe I still will. I like the idea of The Terminator theme playing and Sarah Connor uttering those infamous words, “You’re terminated, f*cker!” as I’m laid to rest but thought that may upset people in the audience so Intermezzo offers a more suitable piece for peaceful contemplation.

5. Moving On Up – Primal Scream

I’d like to end on an upbeat track and this classic pop song has lyrics and a killer tune which are perfect to send the grieving away with a spring in their step. I don’t believe in God but if there is a heaven hopefully this will be the song playing when I go through the Pearly Gates or am plunged into the Fires of Hell. Either one is fine by me. Got to be the Scream’s original classic too!