[Quick Summary: An insecure, jealous boxer battles his way to success in the ring, but his personal life crumbles.]
The first real screenwriting advice I received was, "Never use flashbacks. It's cheating."
After covering many, many scripts, I want to amend it: “Never use flashbacks UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING. OTHERWISE, it’s cheating.”
If you’re using flashbacks to insert needless back story, it’s cheating.
If you’re using flashbacks to make a very specific point, it could be very effective.
In “Raging Bull”, the writer jumps between 1964 (an overweight, out-of-shape Jake LaMotta), and 1956-1958 (Jake in his prime) for a specific reason.
The script is about regret and the inability to trust.
What’s the best way to show this? Juxtapose the present with all his past mistakes.
Ex. In 1964, Jake is full of remorse that he hit and blamed his only trusted ally, his brother Joey in 1951.
The script flashes back to 1951. Jake is lost without Joey, and has lost the will to fight. He practically hands over the middleweight crown to nemesis Sugar Ray Leonard.
In 1964, Jake admits he was wrong. The flashback emphasizes that he really didn't know why he overreacted then. The juxtaposition shows Jake still does not why now.
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Flashbacks are useful if use sparingly and with a defined purpose.
Raging Bull (1980)
by Paul Schrader