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.





Sound flashback in Backdraft

It’s not very usual (here at CINEMA SHOCK) to write about various examples of cinematic storytelling and use the same film again and again to show it or demonstrate it. Sometimes it happens though, like in the case of American Beauty, where we’ve discussed camera angles, body language, colors etc.

However, this is for the first time to show another example of cinematic storytelling in the same category (film sound design) and use the same film to demonstrate it. On the other hand, in this case, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise, because the man behind the sound design is one of the main innovators and heroes in this field – Gary Rydstrom.

(Non)Simultaneous Sound

Most of the time, sound is simultaneous to the image that we see on the screen. This is the most common temporal relation which sound has in fiction films. Noise, music, or speech that comes from space of the story occurs at the same time as the image (1).

Well, sound can also be non-simultaneous. This way, sound can give us information about story events without showing them to us (1). One of these manipulations with sound, i.e. making it non-simultaneous to the image, is to play sound from the previous scene over images from a later time (2). This is called sound flashback or sonic flashback.

Sound Flashback in Backdraft

Brian McCaffrey (William Baldwin) and Donald Rimgale (Robert De Niro) are on the trail of a serial arsonist who sets fires with a fictional chemical substance, trychtichlorate (3). During the investigation, they are attacked by the arsonist. Firstly, Brian wrestles with him and shoves him against a shorting electrical plug (4).

Backdraft (1991)
Backdraft (1991)
Backdraft (1991)
Backdraft (1991)


Then Rimgale finds them and throws the man off Brian. They fight together, but the arsonist runs off (4).

Later in the movie, Brian sees Axe (friend of his father) in the shower. He notices a strange burn on his back, shaped like an electrical socket. Brian realizes it was Axe that he fought in the house and he is the arsonist (4).

Backdraft (1991)
Backdraft (1991)
Backdraft (1991)
Backdraft (1991)


Now, when he realizes that it is Axe who is the arsonist, the sounds from the earlier scene (when they fought) are played back. This way, the audience knows exactly what Brian has just realized. And thanks to his POV, the sounds work seamlessly in the scene. So here it is, sound flashback used as a storytelling device.

As always, shoot me any comments you might have and if you like this article, share it with your friends on Facebook or tweet it to your followers, or both! 🙂



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