Remembering Steven Bach: Raging Bull

Steven had a lot of Hollywood stories that ran the gamut from Orson Welles’s eating habits to how marijuana use helped bulk up the box office take for Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”. A few pretentious hipsters in my class found it obnoxious, but I always marveled at listening to someone talk about “Marty” and “George” and other Hollywood big-wigs on a first name basis, with a wink and a nod towards this mistake, or that lucky break.

I think my favorite story from Steven was about the movie “Raging Bull.” Made in 1980, the film was based on the real-life story of Jake LaMotta, a skilled middleweight boxer with a sadistic mean streak and delusions of grandeur long after his prime in the ring. The film’s director was Martin Scorsese, and was one of the first to feature his “regulars,” actors who would go on to perform in the bulk of his films, such as Joe Pesci, Theresa Saldana, Frank Vincent, and “Raging Bull’s” star Robert DeNiro.

Steven’s high ranking position at United Artists put him in line to green light the film, but because of some of the content of the script, he [and his bosses], were thus far unwillingly to do so. The film, as it was made, begins with the character of Jake LaMotta in his kitchen, getting into a verbal, and then physical, altercation with his pregnant wife, which ends with him slapping her and knocking her to the ground. However, in the draft that Steven held at the time, the slap was then followed by LaMotta towering over his fallen wife, and kicking her repeatedly in the stomach, over and over again.

Not that this was the only questionable content in “Raging Bull” – earlier drafts also featured heavy focus on organized crime, and a slew of even more morally ambiguous characters than LaMotta himself. DeNiro also had several discrepancies with the screenwriter’s vision, and Scorsese’s, and before post-production had even begun the film was already a mess.

So while this draft of “Raging Bull” certainly couldn’t be made, Steven and the other big wigs at UA demanded a rewrite. The younger Scorsese was defiant, as were the screenwriters, and neither were willing to make the requested changes, putting the project suddenly in doubt. It seemed like the studio/distributor and the movie’s auteurs could not be reconciled, and despite frequent calls from the movie’s cast, particularly “Bob DeNiro” [as Steven called him], to both UA and Scorsese, no one was budging.

Though the project was not yet dead, Steven was still surprised to come into his office one morning and find a revised version of the “Raging Bull” script sitting on his desk, waiting to be read. What was in this draft, Steven was not quite as forthcoming, but it can be assumed this was far closer to the version of the film we all know now, the one that was made, and UA shortly cleared the picture for take-off.

The secret behind this draft, however, seemed destined to remain a mystery, save for one small clue on the bottom of each page – the initials of “RDN.” And while Steven said he couldn’t be sworn to anything, he felt he could say with certainty that the draft’s author was the movie’s own star, Robert DeNiro.

Good old Bob.

The rest is history – Mardick Martin and Paul Schrader would receive credit for the screenplay, and Scorsese and DeNiro would go uncredited.

1 comments :: Remembering Steven Bach: Raging Bull

  1. You're doing an amazing job with these posts, I almost feel like I knew the guy.

    As you probably remember one of my professors passed away not too long ago and I can't imagine being able to write as much about him as you have managed to write about Steven, given that he wasn't an immediate family member or anything of that sort.

    I think this is a testament to both the influence and presence Steven must have shared with his students, and to your writing (which when you think about it could be viewed as a compliment to him again as well.)

    Also I think it's really up to people like you doing things like this to properly show tribute to a public figure who has passed ('public' meaning just within the community or perhaps broader) because the official channels can do such a terrible job. According to Kyle, our professor didn't even get a mention at a pre-game ceremony that recognized professors and the like who had passed away that year. I guess that was pretty fitting though since he stood for art, not football.