#14 Taxi Driver (dir: Martin Scorsese, 1976)
Depending on my mood, I either see Travis Bickle as a raving lunatic or a hero. This alternate opinion is a frightening proposition in a way, but it’s honest. Urban alienation is a frightening thing. Some people crawl out of the dark but others lurk in it, grow resentful and try to do some damage. Travis Bickle is the latter but shot through with a sense of being an avenging angel. It’s as if Scorsese is telling us this man is as close to a hero as this city, at this time, deserves. It is a world away from clearly defined roles. Bickle is repulsed by the night people and the city after dark.
“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.”
I consider Taxi Driver not only my personal favourite of Martin Scorsese’s films, but also his best. He really captured the rundown, hellish qualities of his home-town in the late 1970s and that post-Vietnam War angst. Bickle rescues a young prostitute after failing to assassinate a politican. His turmoil goes from nearly committing a senseless act to killing a bunch of pimps. Nobody has the right to take a life but, ironically, Bickle is praised (if we believe that ending isn’t a dying man’s fantasy). The way Scorsese shoots the corridors and the street is incredibly spiritual – as if somebody floating away outside the body.
Robert De Niro is incendiary as Bickle. Mumbling, shy but also furious with anger, he has never been better. And that’s saying something in that man’s career up until the late 1990s when he started to become Roberto NaDiro (see what I did there?) Maybe Raging Bull’s Jake La Motta or Rupert Pupkin, in the King of Comedy, can make some sort of ‘Deranged Men’ trilogy? Those three are my personal faves.
Bernard Hermann’s woozy sax-heavy score is another atmosphere-setting element of the film. It was also his very last one. He went out, if you’ll forgive the pun, on a high note. I don’t actually remember the first time I ever saw Taxi Driver, which is odd. But I’ve seen it at least 30 times and I never get bored. When Bickle shoots the man’s fingers off towards the finale, I still wince, and still laugh at the moment when Travis takes Betsy to a porno theatre. That’s his idea of a date!
Martin Scorsese gives himself two cameos in Taxi Driver. The first, he is sat outside the campaign office and he looks at Betsy as she walks by (done in neat slow-ish motion). The second is a highly disturbing turn as a man wanting revenge against his philandering wife. The dialogue is so vile that Travis even seems uncomfortable. The interesting thing about the scene, this rather horrid vignette, is whether the passenger is merely fantasising about killing his wife and her lover, or he geniunely intends to.
“I’m gonna kill her. I’m gonna kill her with a .44 magnum pistol. I’ve a .44 magnum pistol and I’m gonna kill her with that. Did you ever see what a .44 magnum pistol could do to a woman’s face? Fucking destroy it. Just blow her right apart. That’s what I’ll do to her face. Now, did you ever see what it could do to a woman’s pussy? That you should see!”
Taxi Driver is a walk on the wild side of urban life, but a true cinematic master work from one of my all-time heroes. I love you, Marty!
The Top Twenty Films Challenge is an inter-blog daily feature between myself and Laurent di Alberti at FilmLand Empire blog. Each of us will reveal our Top 20 favourite films. On Tuesday 26th Laurent named Peter Greenaway’s Drowning By Numbers as his number 15. For the other Cinemart entries click here: Top Twenty Films Challenge.