Monday, July 15, 2013

A Tribute to Great Film: Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver
Let's get the cliche out of the way, "You talkin' to me.You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin' to? You talkin' to me? Well I'm the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you're talking to?"  This phrase has not only been uttered in Taxi Driver, but has become one of the most widely reused phrases in other films and television series.  The American Film Institute (AFI) placed this quote at number 10 on their list AFI's 100 years of movies...100 quotes list.  At this point DeNiro had already won an Oscar for The Godfather Part II, but this film put him and director Martin Scorsese on the map, in a big way.

Taxi Driver follows Travis Bickle a war veteran (marines) in a post Vietnam era; he battles the night as he drives people around listening to their problems and seeing the darkness within humanity in New York City.  Bickle is a lonely and depressed man, even with an honorable discharge from Vietnam his thoughts haunt him.  Travis becomes a taxi driver in order to battle his insomnia and dark and depressing thoughts.  Something within this character hits a breaking point, and soon his thoughts become angrier, and the complexity of the character and the world emerges.

This is one of the best films of all time, and there are so many layers to explore within Travis, and the characters within the film, that I could write more than you may want to read.  One of my favorite interaction in the film is between Travis and Senator Charles Palantine who is running for President.  Palantine is a side character who represents the political structure of the time, these men who have ideals running for office in which, but like Travis people often do not know what they stand for, or the major issues of the moment.  Palantine represents the disconnect.  The scene I love is when Palantine happens to end up in Travis' taxi, and Travis explain how he is going to get everyone to vote for him.  Palantine asks as voter what are the major issues on people's minds, what could he do to get more votes.  Bickle talks about his disgust with the crime, and making the dangerous streets go away.  Palantine gives the typical vague answer of a modern day politician, and the violence ensues.

The 1970s provided some of the best films ever, and its mainly because of of their realistic dark tones, which portrayed the darkness within the current societal structure.  Taxi Driver fits within this canon, the darkness of the city life in New York at the time, with violence, drugs, prostitution, corruption. and so on.  The late 1970s also brought to life the dark ramifications for Vietnam veterans, even good men like Bickle who were honorably discharged, returned with what Dexter Morgan deems a "dark passenger" filling their mind with the thoughts of the experiences from war, and coming back to see that even back home evil did not disappear.

The film says so much about society, but it's all just a great film.  This was the film that put Martin Scorsese on the map, I know Mean Streets came first, but this was his first film to get critical and public attention.  Martin Scorsese's career was set in motion because of this film, the dark realistic undertones, mixed with vibrancy of using New York City helped make Taxi Driver this into a masterpiece.  Ironically Scorsese was not nominated for Best Director for this film (a crime), but he and the film did win the Palm d'Ore (Best Picture) at the Cannes Film Festival.

Paul Schraeder who wrote the script, was also ignored by the Academy, but his work on this film created one of the most complex characters and films.  Over the years Schraeder has written many screenplays, including Raging Bull, American Gigiolo, and Affliction, but has never received an Oscar nomination.  With that said Schraeder's work on this film did a great job laying the ground work for the team of Scorsese and DeNiro to bring Travis Bickle to life.

The performances in this film, even the brief ones, are so great and complex, but nothing compares to DeNiro.  DeNiro is Travis Bickle, this man who as as Betsy (Cybil Shepherd) stated full of complexities.  Bickle is out of the loop, he doesn't know not to take a woman on a date to an adult move theatre or about music.  There is an innocence to this dark man, or an innocence he is striving toward.  DeNiro transformation throughout the film, and his evolution with his character is some of the most brilliant acting I have seen on screen.  DeNiro may not have been the first person who transformed to fit the role, but he made that method a part of character development within film, effecting film and its development in a powerful way.

While this film certainly centers on DeNiro's character, the other players within the film are also terrific.  Jodie Foster is the best supporting performance; she is great a young prostitute, she probably should have won the Supporting Actress Oscar, this was her first Oscar nomination, and deserved.   Peter Boyle plays the older and wiser driver named Wizard, then is Cybil Shepherd as Betsy, Albert Brooks, and Harvey Keitel.

At the end of the day Taxi Driver was a progressive film,  from one of the greatest film makers of all time, Scorsese.  People were not ready for raw honesty of this film, especially the Academy, it only received four nominations including Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, and one for it's Score, one of the most memorable scores ever in a film.  Taxi Driver is one of the best films ever made from the the editing, the cinematography,  this film has all the right pieces in place.  The late, great Roger Ebert was the biggest champion of this film during its release stating "Every time I see it, it works; I am drawn into Travis' underworld of alienation, loneliness, haplessness and anger."  Taxi Driver is about being alone, and the ultimate angry and betrayal, which comes from this state, what a fantastic film.

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