Martin Scorsese's seminal picture from 1976 is granted a reissue and
re-release in a new stunning print 4k digital restoration (under the
guidance of Grover Crisp at Sony Pictures) with a run in selected
cinemas to mark the 35th anniversary of its initial release back during
the last Golden Age of Hollywood.
Oddly, for a cinema buff, Taxi Driver is one of those films I have
never gotten round to seeing; partly due to the fact that because it is
constantly listed as one of the great films of all time, you see clips
so you feel you have already seen the film. Of course, this is a
silly opresumption and you need to see the film in its entirety to make
a real critical judgment - seeing it on the big screen will naturally
serve this purpose.
When watching Taxi Driver you are immediately struck by the
forcefulness of Robert De Niro's central performance as the now-iconic
Travis Bickle, in both his charisma and the menacing voiceover -where
he talks of whores, scum and wishes they could all wash away into the
For a film that is so revered due to the notion of it being different
to anything else, it follows a distinct three act structure - with
Travis' persona altering for each specific act.
In the first act, you see the pro-active and resourceful Travis who is
nice to people, wants to work hard and take the beautiful Betsy (Cybill
Shepherd) on a date.
When Betsy refuses his advances and stops returning his calls you get
the angry and frustrated Travis - the one who purchases guns, and talks
to Secret Service agents. Tellingly, the frustrated Travis has
two key moments when he meets Senator Palantine in his cab, voices his
disapprovals of the world and halts the politician in his tracks with
his brutal honesty and the memorable 'You talkin' to me!' scene, which
has been parodied and mimicked to kingdom come.
The third act is vengeful Travis, when he takes it upon himself to save
Iris (Jodie Foster) from the clutches of Sport (Harvey Keitel), donning
a mohawk and a glint in his eye, Travis goes into the whorehouse and
shoots just about everyone in sight and Iris being saved whilst her
tormentors are killed.
The film won the Palme D'Or at Cannes in 1976 and you can see why it
was such a hit upon the European scene as it exhibits European
sensibilities - though pretty explicit in its depiction of
violence and having flashpoints of violence or menace throughout, these
scenes are followed almost repeatedly by moments of Travis in quiet
contemplation and reflection.
The script written by Paul Schrader, is brilliant, but Schrader has
made clear his profound respect for the work of such auteurs Carl
Dreyer, Robert Bresson and Ozu - all directors who combine a mixture of
faith and use long periods of stillness to offset more appropriate
action; one such moment is when Travis plays with rocking his
television back and forth on the table it sits on until the point that
momentum forces it to fall backwards and explode. By that time,
Travis is done with society and the destruction of the television, his
last link (or window) to the outside world is gone and he is only with
himself and his actions, which ultimately ends in the bloodbath.
I was also reminded of something I read in regards to Travis as an
extension or continuation of characters like Ethan Edwards/John Wayne
in The Searchers (1956), an avenging angel (hence all the talk of
religion and faith) with Travis saving Jodie from the Other, much like
Ethan saved Natalie Wood from the Indians who kidnapped her. The
idea of an avenging angel or saving grace is a familiar theme in
westerns, but the planting said angel in a city landscape makes Travis
more an anti-hero because of his mental unstability and fragility, much
like Ethan. However, whereas Ethan became unhinged due to serving
in the Civil War and not knowing his role; Travis served in Vietnam and
has returned to work but is unhappy with the way of the world and wants
to change it, even if it means doing something as disbelieving as
unsettle a Presidential candidate. His belief is that if he saves
Iris, he could be branded a hero, something he was not upon his return
De Niro is mesmerising in his career defining role and the score by the
renowned Bernard Herrmann is both pulsating and unsettling in its sense
of mood. However, this remains Scorsese's calling card to the
world following on from the rawness of Mean Streets and the
made-for-hire work like Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore; there is still
the rawness of the former title yet with more polish and acumen and
photographed in a style to match the work of Coppola, especially The
Conversation. If you have the opportunity to see it on the big
screen, I recommend the Curzon Soho who have it on for a week minimum,
then do so and experience one of the great films of the 1970s and one
of the great works by a great director.
Taxi Driver was released by Park Circus Films on Friday 13th May 2011
in London, Edinburgh, Dublin and key cities, and is certified 18.