The announcement that former middleweight boxer, Jake LaMotta had died created an opportunity to reflect on much more than a dead sportsman. The Guardian’s piece contrasted the life of the man as depicted in the classic film, Raging Bull (1980) with his ghost written autobiography (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) as well as the life actually lived too.
I am no fan of boxing – or almost any sport to be honest – but I loved the film. To be clear, I have been repulsed and admiring of the on-screen character over the decades but the Scorsese/de Niro narrative of stubbon male violence (“You never got me down, Ray.”) has bolstered me through thick and thin. The haunting image of LaMotta’s blood falling to the ground after losing to Sugar Ray Robinson has filled me with mettle on more than one occasion. It is that stubborn refusal to give up; refusal to be knocked down that I admire.
When I read the book I: was disappointed because the boxing life was dull and he showed himself to be no hero at all. That streak of fortitude was not apparent. And from what I’ve read, the man himself was pretty repugnant.
So now he’s dead and all we have left are the relics he left behind: some bit parts in a host of films, a clutch of TV appearances and the strains of opera as an elegaic reminder of an edge when men were men and women were brutalised.