Slow motion in Raging Bull

In this article we’ll be talking a lot about slow motion, so maybe it’s a good idea to briefly describe how slow motion works: The concept behind slow motion (as you can see in the image below) is that images are captured faster than they will be played back. That’s it, that’s the idea.

Wiki: Slow motion
Wiki: Slow motion

In this example, movement that would take 1 second in real-time takes 2 seconds when projected through the projector. This creates a sense of slow motion.

Now, capturing 20 frames per second (FPS) and projecting them at 10 FPS is not very typical and probably not a very good idea, since projecting film frames in such low frame rate would result in jerky movement.

Better and more typical is to shoot at 48 FPS or 120 FPS (and project later at 24 FPS). Nevertheless, shooting at higher frame rate and playing the footage back at lower frame rate is completely meaningless and pointless if you don’t know why you are actually doing it, so the question is: What would be the reason to play with various frame rates and distort thus the perception of reality?

POV (click! :))

POV shot is one of the best reasons and opportunities to distort, manipulate and play with the perception of reality. Thanks to POV shot, we see what the character sees. But not only that, POV shot gets us inside the head of the character, so we can experience what and how he feels. We literally see/hear the world through his eyes/ears.

A lot of the shots in the film had different degrees of slow motion, but notice that all of them were preceded by close-up of Jake La Motta, telling us unmistakably that this is his POV.

Slow motion shots appeared both in boxing ring as well as in his domestic life. Scenes (and slow motion shots) inside the boxing ring were already discussed at length (see the links at the end). Therefore, we’ll focus on the slow motion shots that appear outside the boxing ring.

Watch the video below to experience how is to see the world through the eyes of Jake La Motta – self destructive paranoid violent ambitious possessive suspicious volatile explosive angry and jealous character.

Now, we know why Martin Scorsese used slow motion shots throughout the movie, but what does it actually mean? What does it portray?

1) Fetishisation

Slow motion may be used to indicate a fetishisation of the subject. A way of suggesting that the subject is able to hypnotize the viewer with his or her actions (1). This is what happened when Jake sees Vickie for the first time at the neighborhood swimming-pool. The problem is that he doesn’t see her as a person, but as individual parts (eyes, cheekbones, legs). He sees her as a sexual trophy.

2) Increased awareness

Later in the film, slow motion serves to different purpose – to emphasize the raptness of Jake’s attention and awareness. This happens during the scene at the St Clare’s Church dance, when we are given slow motion POV shots of Vickie and of Vickie and Salvy as Jake looks across the room, and of Vickie and Salvy as Jake follows them from the dance and watches them drive off in Salvy’s car (2).

3) Paranoia and jealousy

Finally, slow motion gives more credence to his escalating paranoid state (3) and jealousy. He sees the world in slow motion and interprets every minute detail. To Jake La Motta’s paranoid mind, people’s actions always require pessimistic interpretation. “Anything is possible,” as he says several times. His eye for detail, as shown via slow motion shots, causes multitudes of possibilities to furiously zigzag and crisscross in his mind, often causing him to suspect people of wronging him and sullying his masculinity (4).

24 FPS sound

It is interesting to note that during the slow motion shots we hear real sound, the actual 24 FPS sound. This gives the slow motion shots slightly disturbing feeling. It builds tension and increases Jake’s paranoia towards the end.

During my preparation for this article I came across many interesting articles and books, but this one stands out: Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. Just read it.




Inside the head of Jake La Motta and Victoria Page

The standard way of shooting a ballet scene, up until 1948, would be to photograph the dancers from head to toe. However, Red Shoes – photographed by Jack Cardiff – completely changed this. The movie is photographed in such a way, that we’ll see what goes on inside the dancer’s head – we are shown what they see(=their POV). (And there is nothing better than POV when it comes to sound design, but wait! 🙂 )

Few years later, Martin Scorsese applied this in boxing scenes in Raging Bull. If you pay attention, you’ll notice, that the camera stays always inside the ring. Watch the video below to see a comparison of ballet and boxing scenes in Red Shoes and Raging Bull (taken from the documentary Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff):

The similarity is clearly visible. But Martin Scorsese took this concept even further.

POV and Sound Design

The POV shots are amazing opportunity for sound designers – the POV gets us inside the head of the character. That means, that we see what they see, but also hear what they hear! And this is extremely exciting, because you can, as a sound designer, play with the sounds what they hear. Being inside the head of the character gives you license to distort and manipulate the sounds.

Frank Warner, the sound designer of Raging Bull, created whole library of sound effects, that you’ll hear during the boxing scenes. These include: Smashed watermelon and tomatoes, animal like noises, gunshots(these were used for the sound of camera flash bulbs going off) and many others. (Sound mix for Raging Bull took six months!)

I can only guess, what sound effects were used in the boxing scenes, but the truth is, that even Martin Scorsese doesn’t know. Frank Warner was so protective about his sound effects, that he destroyed them later, so nobody else could use them again.

Anyway, POV shots are brilliant for sound design. Especially for self-destructing characters like Jake La Motta.

Plus, the boxing ring in itself creates an attractive environment for sound design. I think everyone would be interesting in terms of sound design when standing inside the boxing ring, not just Jake La Motta. In boxing ring, you just see and hear differently, trust me.

In January 2012, I wrote a post about POV and sound design, you can read it by clicking here.


Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

Visual storytelling in Shutter Island

Shutter Island (2010)
Shutter Island (2010)

Andrew Laeddis (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a patient at Shutter Island. He can’t deal with the traumatic reality in his life (death of his children and wife), so he creates an imaginary world, in which he is a federal Marshal Teddy Daniels.

When you see the movie for the first time, you are led to believe, that Teddy Daniels is a real person, only to find out later, that he is actually the missing patient 67. But if you watch the movie again, you’ll notice, that there are clues throughout the whole movie, that the world of Teddy Daniels is imaginary. Let’s take a look at one example.

Shutter Island (2010)
Shutter Island (2010)

When Teddy interviews Mrs. Kearns, she pretends to drink from a glass of water.

Shutter Island (2010)
Shutter Island (2010)

In the next shot, she puts down the glass of water, but now its a real glass. Notice, that in the previous shot, the glass was in her right hand, while in this shot, the glass is in her left hand.

Shutter Island (2010)
Shutter Island (2010)

After a while, she leaves. Now, if you look closely, you’ll see that there is a water in the glass, which wasn’t there before. (I highly doubt, that this was an editing mistake.)

I’m going to write more about visual storytelling in Shutter Island and extend this article as soon as possible! To stay updated about future write ups (to other articles as well),  you can follow the blog on Facebook.