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Rock Bottom Is a Good Starting Point

When we reach rock bottom, we are often at our best.

When someone "hits rock bottom," there’s no lower to go. Hitting the bottom is so painful that it’s enough to motivate a person to recover.

After the box office failure and critical mauling of his film "New York, New York," the film director, Martin Scorsese was at a low point. Robert De Nero was pestering him to direct a film called ‘Raging Bull’ but he stalled on the project because couldn’t relate to the central character, Jake La Motta, a self destructive boxer. Just when it seemed things could get no worse, in 1978 he took some cocaine that reacted badly with the asthma medication and prescription drugs he needed for his multiple allergies. He started coughing up blood, bleeding from his mouth, nose eyes, and other orifices. Near death, he was rushed to New York Hospital. Tests showed he was bleeding internally everywhere. They pumped him full of cortisone and he survived.

The only way is up
The only direction is up
Rod Judkins
De Nero went to see him in hospital and pull him to his senses. "Are you going to do Raging Bull or not?" demanded De Nero. Scorsese finally said yes. At last he could get into Jake La Motta’s head. He and La Motta were both self-destructive.

Scorsese went into the filming of Raging Bull full of anxiety, paranoia and insecurities. His health was so poor he was positive it would be his last film. He said, "Maybe I’m crazy but rather than compromise the story and make ten other movies afterward, I’d rather leave it alone and not make any more movies after this." He had cut himself off from mainstream Hollywood and conventional filmmaking. He had no reputation to protect. With nothing to lose, he was free to make his best work.

That was not the end of the disasters. Half way through filming he had a severe anxiety attack. He couldn’t breathe. He was taken to hospital. The next day he recovered and returned to shoot the last two weeks in an agitated, disturbed state of mind.

Raging Bull became a classic and one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time.

We often produce our best work after our biggest failures. When you hit rock bottom the only direction is up. There is a need to move on, do things differently, better.


The source for much of this post is Peter Biskind’s book, "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls"



Rod Judkins



Rod Judkins lectures at University of the Arts London and is author of Change Your Mind: 57 Ways to Unlock Your Creative Self.


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