Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Boxing Glove Book Review: Raging Bull by Jake Lamotta

The Boxing Glove Book Review By Peter Silkov
"Raging Bull: My Story Jake La Motta"  Written by  By Jake Lamotta, with Joseph Carter and Peter Savage


Former World middleweight champion, Jake "The Bronx Bull" Lamotta, is one of boxing’s most enduring legends, whose life outside of the ring has been as stormy and controversial, as his life inside of it. Lamotta was world champion from June 16, 1949, until February 14, 1951, and is famed as having fought the great Sugar Ray Robinson six times, as well as being the man to hand Robinson his first professional defeat.  Ironically, it would be Robinson who would relieve Lamotta of his World Middleweight title.  As he approaches his 94th birthday this year and as far as I am aware, he is boxing’s oldest surviving ex-world champion. However, there is a lot more to Lamotta than just a straightforward story of a boxer fighting his way to the world championship. 

Lamotta is far from a straightforward person, just as he was far from being simply a take three punches to land one punch type of slugger that many today believe.  Jake’s life story was portrayed in the 1980 Martin Scorsese film “Raging Bull” with Robert Deniro giving one of the most powerful performances of his career. Raging Bull was hailed as one of the greatest boxing movies ever, and laid bare the rage and paranoia that both drove and tortured Jake Lamotta.

The film was based on Lamotta’s biography “Raging Bull” of the same name, which was first published in 1970. If “Raging Bull” the film is often operatic in its portrayal of Jake’s rages and struggles with his inner demons, then the book is altogether more darker and detailed. This is an autobiography of a man at war with himself, as well as the world around him. 

Jake Lamotta grew up in the Bronx New York, in a run down tenement, with an abusive father who beat him and his siblings, and his mother. By the age of 16 years old, Jake was in his own words a ’hardcore’ juvenile delinquent.  “I was a bum, and lived like a bum, in a bum neighbourhood.’ At about this age, Lamotta mugged a local bookie, and was left believing he had killed him. This early savage act is one of the main incidences that formed Jake’s outlook on the world and himself, he is a man riven with guilt, anxieties, and suspicion. Boxing eventually offered Jake a way out from the criminal life that he had become entangled. Yet, he could not get away from the insecurities that his upbringing and early experiences have sowed within him.  Lamotta has been married 7 times during his life, and it’s not hard to see why.  Within this book, he is very open about the paranoia and jealousy that eventually brought an end his marriage to Vicky Lamotta, his wife during his boxing days.

Lamotta seemed to trust no one and had few friends, save for his life long buddy, Pete.  He often had reason to be suspicious of people, but at other times, it was revealed that his own worst enemy was, too often, himself.   

Always a loner, Lamotta’s aloofness from the mob elements, who ran boxing at this time, meant that he was kept waiting for years for his chance at the world’s championship. In the end, Jake was forced to pay a tremendous price in order to receive his chance at the title; he was forced to take a dive against Billy Fox in 1947. Even after taking the dive, Lamotta was kept waiting almost another two years before he finally received his world title shot.

When he beat Marcel Cerdan for the World middleweight title on June 16, 1949, despite it being the greatest day of his life, it would also ironically prove to be the beginning of his downfall both as a boxer and a person.  Lamotta soon realized, through a number of incidences, that being world champion would not take away the turmoil that ate away inside of him. In many ways, it is as if he did not feel that he deserved to be world champion.

“Raging Bull” follows Lamotta through his bittersweet title reign and then looks at how his world quickly starts to fall apart after he loses the championship to Sugar Ray Robinson. As his boxing career fell apart, so did his private life. After his boxing career is over, Jake is bereft at having lost the one thing that held him together, and made him able to function in a world in which he felt so alienated.

There was a culmination of events that happen which eventually throw Lamotta’s life into a spiral of decline. Firstly, he was incarcerated for abetting prostitution, and then, later, testified at the 1960 Senate investigations into corruption in boxing, admitting he threw the ’47 fight against Billy Fox. With this admission, Lamotta is publicly humiliated and banished from the boxing establishment. While Lamotta’s confession is seen as brave in some quarters, it makes him a leper in most boxing circles, and has reverberations that continue until this day. Lamotta had confessed to doing the unthinkable, but perhaps more than the dive itself,  it was the confession itself that so enraged some elements within the boxing establishment.

Eventually, Lamotta was to enjoy at least a partial return to public favour. It was a process that began with this book being published in 1970, and eventually reached its full fruitation with the release of Scorsese’s film of the book in 1980.

Lamotta remains a controversial character, but in “Raging Bull”, he certainly doesn’t pull any punches regarding himself. This is a warts-and-all autobiography. There are strong parallels between Lamotta’s story and that of Rocky Graziano, who grew up in the Bronx at the same time as Lamotta, and won the World middleweight title, during a time when Lamotta was waiting his chance, and being called by many the ‘uncrowned’ champion. Graziano would also write a book about his life, and rise from juvenile delinquent to middleweight world champion, in “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (a great book in its own right.)  Graziano’s autobiography was also later made into a film, by the same name, starring Paul Newman.

However, despite the similarities between the two men and their life stories, “Raging Bull” is an altogether darker more complex book. 

Over 40 years since it was originally published, “Raging Bull” still packs a powerful punch. It is a brilliant study of Jake Lamotta’s rise to the top of the boxing world, despite many obstacles being thrown in his way by various elements other than his opponents in the ring. We also see how the very character traits, which make Lamotta so fearless and formidable in the ring, eventually prove to be his downfall in his private life, and come very close to totally destroying him.

Anyone who has ever watched the film “Raging Bull” can find where all of the inspiration and drama came from in this autobiography. The term ‘living legend’ is almost embarrassingly overused today, but it is a term that Jake Lamotta deserves.  “Raging Bull” tells us what a complex man he is, and also gives us a glimpse into the complex and often-nefarious world of boxing.


*Not all photos on this page are published in "Raging Bull."

Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to www.theboxingglove.com and www.theboxingtribune.com

 
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2 comments:

  1. OT: Get this cool original Manny Pacquiao Artwork only at the official Manny Pacquiao website!

    ReplyDelete