Raging Bull

The opening sequence to the award winning movie “Raging Bull”, was imagined and produced by the movies writer and director, Martin Scorsese, and is regarded by many as one of the best opening credit sequences in movie history.

Before the first name appears on the screen, when the UA of United Artists logo is still moving, the music chosen for the opening sequence, the symphony Cavalleria Rustican: Intermezzo, begins softly with just violins and clarinets. After the UA logo passes, the screen goes to black. With the light violins and clarinets three major credit names are presented one as a time. And then, with a slight pause in the music, an image of a boxer wearing his hooded robe standing in a boxing ring appears. Right as the boxer begins to bounce around, the full sound of the orchestra picks up and the title of the movie “Raging Bull” appears in big red letters. This is the only color used during the film.

To set the mood, Scorsese cuts down the size of the frame to about 50% and is shot with older grainy black and white film, unlike the sharper black and white film used for the movie. The camera does not move but shows the silhouette of a boxer dancing around the boxing ring by himself in slow motion. With the exception of the text, a couple faded bobbing heads below the boxing ring, a few flashes of light and the dancing boxer, there is no movement in this sequence. The use of flashes, supposedly from cameras of sports reporters taking pictures, helps the audience understand that this man is a prize boxer before a big fight. The footage is slowed down by probably 20 times the normal speed and fits the tempo of the beautiful delicate symphony. Seeing his robe flow slowly as he makes cuts and jabs into the air displays an unseen beauty to how a boxer moves.

The most intentional display of design comes with the use of the ropes around the ring. The camera is positioned from a point of view as if you were standing just a few feet away from the ring, but everything is framed by the heavy lines created by the ropes closest to the camera. From this angle even the boxer is framed between these two thick lines. From here the text of the credits is manipulated to fit between the horizontal lines created by the ropes on the close and far end of the ring. Even when six lines of text appears each sits evenly between the ropes. The dancing boxer, played by Robert De Niro, stays on the left side of the ring allowing the type to fit nicely on the right hand side of the screen between the ropes. Although Scorsese is painting a picture with the imagery of the ring and the boxer, it is not so distracting that you cannot read and retain some of the names being credited. The ropes almost recreate the lines of sheet music, and as the boxer jumps around. It could be interpreted that he is making shapes of musical notes on those lines.

For such a gruesome storyline, for a violent sport, filled with gambling and corruption, this elegant opening sequence helps the audience understand this is to be seen as a beautiful story of the protagonists poetic struggle and not an action/boxing movie.