Archive for the ‘travis bickle’ Tag

4 reasons to go watch ‘Taxi Driver’

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Just back from watching ‘Taxi Driver’ for the first time in years, on the big screen at the National Film Theatre, London. The latest sortie in an on-going campaign to expose the Enfants Terribles to the best of 70s cinema – from ‘The Godfather’ via ‘Serpico’ to ‘Chinatown’. And this the day after bumping into Martin Scorsese on the mean streets of London.

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1. The Beginning

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As the shark-monster wing of the yellow New York cab emerges from the cloud of steam to the epic music of Bernard Herrmann (to whom Scorsese’s 1976 masterpiece is dedicated) we know this vehicle is more than a jaundiced automobile – it will take us from here (a neon-lit metropolis littered with sin and evil goings-on) to there (a patient study in alienation and trying to do right but failing in an oh so human way) for a few dollars but we’ll leave the slick pavement on the journey and transcend to higher places (including a climactic moment in which we float over the ultimately murderous outcome across the ceiling of the blood-spattered room in a bold overhead shot). This film is blood red like the Technicolor crimson lipstick in ‘Black Narcissus’ which Scorsese so admires, like Powell & Pressburger’s ‘Red Shoes’, like the blood of Christ and the neon in the city night.

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2. The Acting

DeNiro, the year after his triumph in ‘The Godfather II’, brilliantly conveys the building total exhaustion of a man who can’t sleep despite 12 hour overnight shifts in the cab. His eyes gradually darken as does his outlook. Returned from Vietnam, wounded in body and mind – all shown and not told (scars on his back, his named combat uniform, Nam references in a political speech) – Travis Bickle tries desperately to get back in touch with the world but his 26-year old head just isn’t there. He reaches out to presidential campaigner Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) but can’t remember why taking her out to a porn movie on a date might not be right. He tries to engage the kiosk girl in a porno cinema to no avail, foreshadowing the failed date as well as spotlighting a painful innocence. DeNiro’s performance is a patient portrait of isolation and aloneness. When we first see him in the brilliant revelation of his radical Mohican haircut in a tilt up from his hands opening a bottle of pills, up his combat fatigues, past his We Are The People badge, to reveal his final descent to animalistic warrior basics, he is standing alone at the edge of a crowd.

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That strange smirk

3. The Writing

Paul Schrader’s script is full of classic lines, as epic and resonant as Herrmann’s score. The biblical passage near the front about washing all the filth off the city streets – Manhattan as Nineveh (which has an added dimension in that Nineveh is now Mosul and Mosul is now being cleansed of IS animalistic psycho-warriors) – is masterful.

May 10th. Thank God for the rain which has helped wash away the garbage and trash off the sidewalks. I’m workin’ long hours now, six in the afternoon to six in the morning. Sometimes even eight in the morning, six days a week. Sometimes seven days a week. It’s a long hustle but it keeps me real busy. I can take in three, three fifty a week. Sometimes even more when I do it off the meter. All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take ’em to Harlem. I don’t care. Don’t make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won’t even take spooks. Don’t make no difference to me.

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I can’t quite look at this shit

4. The Ending

The romantic shot towards the end of Betsy, framed in the taxi rearview mirror, surrounded by soft-focus glittering city lights, is literally a rear view, a coma fantasy drawn from a more promising time. The sounds of the hospital life-support machines subtly playing in the background (at least that’s how I read it). The sound design is fabulous throughout, many grim scenes of guns and prostitution underlaid with the shouts and play of children in the city streets. The Betsy in rearview mirror shot was referenced by John Mackenzie in the ending of ‘The Long Good Friday’ four years after this movie – in that case a young Pierce Brosnan fixing a resigned Harold/Bob Hoskins in the reflection. There Harold Shand is being driven off to his death. In the last moments of ‘Taxi Driver’ it is a comatose Travis Bickle who pulls away in his taxi from his dream of love and connection (in the fantasised form of Betsy) and drives off on his own to his own death and fade to black, leaving us with a powerful sense of wasted human potential, the urge to do right, to help, to save, to connect, to reach out, which somehow goes wrong…

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I got some good ideas in my head after the inspiration of watching such a flawless film. It has just been re-released in the UK to mark its 40th anniversary.

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Teetering on the edge

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Jodie Foster, just 14 at the time, yet such a mature performance

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Sport: “You’re a funny guy.” – tees up another classic Scorsese scene 14 years later: “It’s a good story, it’s funny, you’re a funny guy.” (Goodfellas)

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Object of desire

 

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