Robert De Niro is indisputably one of the greatest motion picture actors of our time. Early in his movie career, De Niro made his reputation playing explosive characters, he frequently transformed himself physically to humanize people who lived on margins of society. As he has matured, Mr. De Niro has shown his more subtle talents with characters who’s struggles have been drawn from more common experiences. All along, he has shown an uncanny ability to bring pathos and emotional honesty to his performances. Throughout the month of April, MGM HD applauds this legendary actor with a Robert De Niro Retrospective Marathon, showcasing three of his signature performances.
In “New York, New York” (1977), De Niro teamed up with his longtime collaborator, director Martin Scorsese and co-star Liza Minnelli to pay homage to the Hollywood musical. The result was an epic film that is by turns classic and modern. De Niro’s up-and-coming saxophone player, Jimmy Doyle, is a nervous ball of quirks and simmering violence unlike anyone Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire might have played in the movies of old. The actor’s dedication to his craft is on full display, he obsessively learned the saxophone to make sure he looked like he knew what he was doing on stage. According to De Niro, 30-40 percent of the movie was improvised, with scenes that unfolded in unexpected ways. Look for a scene where De Niro’s commitment to character was rewarded with a trip to the infirmary after he fractured his hand hitting the roof of a taxicab.
Also featured this month is Robert De Niro’s Academy Award® winning turn as boxer Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece “Raging Bull” (1980). Famously, to play the part of the aging La Motta, De Niro put on sixty pounds. “He was a young fighter and then he let himself go and it was so sad,” said De Niro, “To see that deterioration and to capture it on film was really interesting to me.” But putting on the weight was not the extent of his dramatic preparation: De Niro stepped in the ring to spar with Jake LaMotta himself. LaMotta reportedly complimented De Niro, saying he could have been one of the top twenty middleweights of all time. However, when asked if the then sixty-year-old La Motta could have knocked him out, De Niro responded, “If it came to a real fight, of course he could, no question.”
Our final film featured in our marathon is “Stanley and Iris” (1990), co-starring Jane Fonda. Director Martin Ritt’s portrait of budding love between two working class people. Stripped of the performative pyrotechnics present in his other films, this quiet and low key role gives the viewer an opportunity to see what De Niro can do with more relatable material.
Look for the Robert De Niro retrospective, all through the month of April on MGM HD.