Raging Bull is the story of world middleweight champion boxer Jake La Motta brought to the screen by director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert DeNiro, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of La Motta. The film is considered by many critics to be the best film of the 1980s and is included in discussions about the best film of all-time by the influential British magazine Sight & Sound.
This collection was supposed to come out in 1980 with the film’s release, but the music clearances were not obtained, so the album was shelved. The synergistic opportunities of the DVD’s release appear to have helped clear the previous issues, which benefits everyone.
The album is fantastic. It is two discs of great music that not only provides music used in the film, but it also opens up a portal to the past, allowing us to listen to what it must have sounded like for a young Scorsese growing up in the ‘40s and ‘50s in his New York neighborhood. The music on the radio and playing out of people’s tenement windows then included popular singers, big bands orchestras and Italian music for those from the old country.
The CD begins as does the film with the glorious strings of Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana: Intermezzo” played by the Orchestra of Bolonga Municop Thetra with Arturo Basile conducting. The music sounds beautiful and will forever conjure up the film’s opening title sequence for me. La Motta dancing around the ring full of hope and promise, but the images foreshadow his story. He is alone and at a distance from the camera. The ropes of the ring frame him like bars across a jail cell. The Orchestra also plays two other Mascagni compositions, including “Guglielmo Ratcliff: Intermezzo,” a piece whose somberness evokes the downfall of a great tragic figure.
Aside from the music of Pietro Mascagni, the characters’ roots can be heard in Italian singers such as Carlo Buti, who contributes two tracks, Orazio Strano, who delivers long spoken word sections during “Turi Guilano”, and Renato Carosone on “Scapricciatiello (Infatuation)”, which has a crazy Alvin and the Chipmunk vocal towards the end of the song.
Classic American voices from the era made their way into the characters’ lives. Tony Bennett, Frankie Lane, Louis Prima & Keely Smith, and of course, Frank Sinatra, who sings “All or Nothing at All” with Harry James & His Orchestra and “Come Fly With Me” as a solo performer. And it’s not only Italian-Americans singers that were popular. There was also Nat King Cole, The Mills Brothers, and Ella Fitzgerald who can also be heard twice with The Ink Spots on “Cow-Cow Boogie” and with Louis Jordan on the humorous yet lethal family spat that is the “Stone Cold in the Market”.
Most of the singers sung slow, romantic ballads, so if you really wanted to swing, you had to turn to the big bands. Knockout performances that stand out are the drum and trumpet exchange on “Flash” by Harry James & His Orchestra, awesome bass work on “Big Noise From Winnetka” by Bob Crosby and the Bobcats, Artie Shaw’s clarinet on “Frenesi”, and all the members of Gene Krupa & His Orchestra get things jumpin’ on “Drum Boogie.”
Scorsese is a talented filmmaker who knows the power that music has and what it can add to a film. He along with Raging Bull’s music producer, The Band’s Robbie Robertson, picked a number of songs that were apropos to scenes. Songs such as “Just One More Chance” by Bing Crosby, “Do I Worry” by The Ink Spots and two versions of “Prisoner of Love” by Russ Columbo and Perry Como capture the capture the mood and thoughts of Jake during his emotional turmoil.
The soundtrack is a great audio recreation that captures the film and its time. There’s even a cut from the film with DeNiro as La Motta performing his nightclub act after he retired from boxing. This set is a must-have for fans of Raging Bull and anyone who enjoys the music from this time, especially if you grew up in an Italian household.