Raging Bull…”Who Asked You?” – at Tribeca with Schoonmaker

New contributor to my blogs, Rob Medaska will be posting occasional write-ups on all things film-related in a feature called “Medaska’s Mess.” As his first entry on this site Rob recounts listening to Thelma Schoonmaker talk about editing Raging Bull (1980).

Raging Bull….”Who Asked You”

What can be said about Raging Bull that hasn’t been said already…..not much! It is in my mind Martin Scorsese’s best film.  Others are good, but this is a modern-day masterpiece.   It was an honor to head to the Tribeca Film Festival and the SVA Theater located on 23rd street in New York, to grab a few insightful moments of Thelma Schoonmaker’s time.  If you’re not aware, Ms. Schoonmaker is a three-time Academy Award winning editor – seven times nominated – taking home one of those Oscars for her work in Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980).   As a filmmaker and editor it was a great chance for me to hear firsthand about the making of this American classic.

Ms. Schoonmaker spent the better part of 90 minutes breaking down the edits she made, and more importantly why she made them. There is a great article by Justin Morrow, link here, which summarizes the Saturday afternoon (April 19th at 3:00).

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Schoonmaker discussing editing Raging Bull at Tribeca

What I will cover is my take on the session, both as a fan, and as a filmmaker. First off I found it interesting right from the get go that the session was treated more as a class, then as a discussion which I thought was very cool. Schoonmaker broke down the film based on how and why they choose to cut the film the way she and Mr. Scorsese did. The use of B & W was explained, also I think 1981 was the last time two B & W films were nominated in the same year for Best Picture….can you name the other?   I also found it interesting that the character Robert De Niro played was to mirror, in a general way, that of an English film called The Life and Death of Cornel Blimp (1943) by Powell and Pressburger.

I especially loved Ms. Schoonmaker breaking down the film, edit by edit, explaining how and why she cut what she did. For example she talked about how they used the sound of the flash photography to cut from shot to shot.  In other words, audio was used more than visual. Also she gave unending credit to sound man Frank Warner, and the effects that he used.  I did find it strange that she said after Mr. Warner completed a film he destroyed his sounds effects so that he could “start the slate clean” on future projects.

Schoonmaker went on to break things down, explaining for instance, how they created three different rings, how they conceived the steadicam shot, and how they used of improv on set (of which I am a huge fan). Another interesting side note is that she said when she and Marty are working, in the background playing 24-7 is TCM, from which Marty will once in a while stop….pause and tell her “that is the kinda shot I am looking for”.   It’s good to know that an all-time great keeps an ever eye on the all-time greats.

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All in all it was fascinating to hear about moving from steambecks to computer editing. Also to find out Ms. Schoonmaker “hates” boxing and thinks the sport should be banned altogether. Makes me wonder how it was for her to work on such a violent project.   The final portion of Schoonmaker’s presentation that day was her showing outtakes of footage from the kitchen scene where Joe Pesci says to his wife at the table “who asked you?”  It was a fascinating day spent with a fascinating lady.

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