Primal Screen

The movies imported the melodrama whole-cloth, but gradually opened up its theatrical space and added a subjective dimension through camera placement and editing. That subjectivity finds its extreme in the uniquely cinematic form of psychodrama. Raging Bull's boxing scenes—360 degree whirligigs in which space and time are as fractured and malleable as in dreams, and where Jake confronts a series of opponents who are no more or less than projections of his inner demons—are mini-psychodramas. In the last fight with Sugar Ray Robinson, which ends Jake's brief reign as champion, we see Sugar Ray looming over Jake, delivering blows like Norman Bates's mother in Psycho.

Notwithstanding a mise-en-scène so packed with detail that it seems anthropological, the collision of these historically determined, highly stylized forms throws the very notion of movie realism into question. Over the next 20 years, with the possible exception of The Age of Innocence, Scorsese has never again treated the history of a form, a medium, and a culture so radically, or made so complicated a meditation on the relations among spectacle, entertainment, and art.

Not a single pulled or wasted punch: De Niro in Raging Bull
photo: Film Forum/Photofest
Not a single pulled or wasted punch: De Niro in Raging Bull


Raging Bull
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin
An MGM Distribution release
Film Forum
Through August 10

The Tic Code
Directed by Gary Winick
Written by Polly Draper
An Avalanche release
Opens August 4

Gary Winick's The Tic Code is a sympathetic but conventional disease-of-the-week movie about a 12-year-old jazz piano prodigy who suffers from Tourette's syndrome, an incurable neurological disorder that manifests itself in facial and body tics, loud hiccup-like sounds, and sometimes, in its advanced stages, uncontrollable, unmotivated outbursts of obscenities.

Deserted by his jazz musician father, who regards him as a freak, Miles (Christopher George Marquette) lives alone with his mother, Laura (Polly Draper, who also wrote the screenplay). In the afternoons Miles practices on the piano at the Village Vanguard, which is where he meets one of his idols, trumpet player Tyrone Pike (Gregory Hines), who's also afflicted with Tourette's. Tyrone and Laura get romantically involved, but his long-standing strategy of denying his Tourette's becomes a problem in their relationship.

Marquette handles the technical difficulties of his role with aplomb if not with absolute consistency (it's hard enough to act like a musical prodigy, let alone one with Tourette's), Draper is quite moving as a protective single mother who's insecure about her sexual allure, and Hines, despite his tendency to play to the balcony (he doesn't just walk out of a room, he makes an exit), convinces us that he's the right man for this family. The music by Michael Wolff, who is married to Draper and has a mild case of Tourette's, is not sufficiently distinguished to make us believe that either Tyrone or Miles is the jazz great he's supposed to be.

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