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Goodfellas (1990)
English
Martin Scorsese

Goodfellas (1990) is one Scorsese film that made it big with both the audience and the critics. Its worm’s eye view of the underworld places it apart from all the films in the genre that still cling to the top level of the hierarchy.

Check this sequence in the film that takes place at a party club called Copacabana. The scene just shows Henry reaching his table with his girlfriend starting from the entrance. Though it’s a scene that is quite light on the minds and introduces us to the vital characters of the plot, the execution of the scene is so solemn and so thought over. The whole scene is captured in a single uninterrupted shot. The camera snakes in and out of thin paths, narrowly avoids collisions and tries to squeeze out into the destination. The way to the table is also too serpentine and access to it seems like a Herculean task, very much like the underworld that the film depicts.

Take a look:

Michael Ballhaus employs the camera like his eyes. Instead of using it as a tool for documentation, he gives it life and makes it an invisible character in the film. He makes it look at events, he makes it empathize and he transfers it onto the viewers. This effect is more pronounced in his earlier collaborations with German wunderkind Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose setups not only imposed physical restrictions on the movement of the camera, but also evoked a sense of claustrophobia that often reflected the characters’ own. The same period gave rise to his characteristic Ballhaus shot (or the 360 degree shot), again, testifying his opinion on the medium.

Though a lot of films off late have used the long snaky shot to gain unwarranted appreciation, none of them gels with the film as effectively as the Copacabana shot.

P.S: Sorry for another Scorsese scene. But what to do, he is one of the best scene composers alive!

Raging Bull (1980)
English
Martin Scorsese

Raging Bull (1980) is my favorite Scorsese for many reasons apart from the extraordinary performance Robert De Niro as the troubled boxer Jake La Motta who was deservedly honoured by the Academy next year. The mutually reinforcing Cinematography (thanks to Michael Chapman) and the spectacular editing by Scorsese regular Thelma Schoonmaker match the intensity of the lead’s performance.

In the final scene of the movie, a slightly overweight Jake La Motta is sitting in his dressing room staring at his mirror (a la Taxi Driver) just before his stand up show (a la The King Of Comedy!). He is smoking a cigar and moves into a monologue:

Jake: Some people aren’t that lucky… like the one Brando played in “On the Waterfront“, a down-and-outer. Remember the scene in the car with his brother Charlie? It went like this. It wasn’t him, Charlie. It was you. Remember that night you said, “Kid, this ain’t your night. “We’re going for the price on Wilson”. “This ain’t your night.” My night. I could’ve taken Wilson apart. So what happens? He gets a title shot. I get a one-way ticket to Palookaville. I was no good after that, Charlie. You reach a peak, then it’s downhill. It was you, Charlie. You was my brother. You should’ve looked out for me just a little bit. You should’ve taken care of me… instead of making me take dives for short-end money. You don’t understand. I could’ve had class. I could’ve been a contender. I could’ve been somebody instead of a bum. Let’s face it. It was you, Charlie. It was you.
(Enter the event manager)
Manager: How you doin’, champ? Everything OK?
Jake: Yeah.
Manager: Ready?
Jake: Five minutes.
Manager: OK. Need anything?
Jake: No.
Manager: You sure?
Jake: I’m sure. Lot of people out there?
Manager: It’s crowded.
(Exit manager)
Jake: Go get ’em, champ. I’m the boss. I’m the boss. I’m the boss. I’m the boss.

Jake warms up and starts shadow-boxing as he leaves for the stage. THe screen fades to black. The following text from the Bible appears before the credits roll on:

So, for the second time, the Pharisees
summoned the man who had been blind and said:
“Speak the truth before God.
We know this fellow is a sinner.”
“Whether or not he is a sinner, I do not know,”
The man replied.
“All I know is this:
Once I was blind and now I can see.”

– John IX, 24-26
the New English Bible

The video is given here:

Scorsese, being a cinema enthusiast himself, uses a classic scene from the Brando vehicle On The Waterfront (1954) where Terry (Brando) regrets his spoilt career and what he has become to his brother. Jake La Motta, contrite of all his mistakes that have brought sorrow to himself and many around him, quotes those lines verbatim. The scene does not involve verbalization or melodrama as many directors would be tempted to employ. Rather Scorsese simply asks his character to repeat the already famous lines and leaves the rest to the viewer to interpret. La Motta, as suggested by the biblical passage, has “woke up” and goes towards his new life with the same vigour and passion as entering his boxing matches as The Raging Bull.