"I think someone should just take this city and just... just flush it down the fuckin' toilet"
In my room, where I have my collection of films, I have two posters of 'Taxi Driver', one regular size and one so big that I can't fit it in the room at this point. I've wanted to write a review of my favourite film for so long but I've been somewhat scared of failing... miserably. How to give 'Taxi Driver' a proper review from a person who doesn't make this for a living? Now is the time to give it a shot...
'Taxi Driver' had lots of difficulties to get into production. The studio executives weren't that excited about Paul Schrader's strange story about a cab driver called Travis Bickle. They were in fact more interested of his other script called 'Watch the Skies'. In the end, Spielberg would direct the film but before that he rewrote it and retitled it to 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'. Schrader's two picture deal with Columbia made it possible to give birth to these two films. The budget for 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' was rather big but the money that came over was enough to make 'Taxi Driver' possible.
Scorsese was not the first in mind to direct 'Taxi Driver'. Brian De Palma (Scarface', 'The Untouchables') was the first person that came in mind for directing duties for the producers. But Scorsese would get the job in the end. He had prior to 'Taxi Driver' made 'Mean Streets' and 'Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore' so he had proven to make good movies.
The film was given "a green light". All was set, the crew was hired and the actors were ready to make history... Next, some thoughts and facts of the key players in the making of 'Taxi Driver'.
De Niro is my all-time favourite actor. He is what you could call a method actor, focusing 100 % and preparing every detail of his character. For the role of Travis Bickle he got himself a cab licence and drove for a month on the streets of NY to understand the job. He met Army veterans to study their behavior.
As a kid, De Niro was somewhat of a loner, he'd rather read books than hang out with other kids. He has always had a need for privacy. Even on his later days he has tried to keep a distance to the media. During filming he stayed in character throughout the filming and kept his distance also to the other actors. He rarely socialized with them, only when necessary.
De Niro's challenge was to make Travis Bickle into a complex and troubling character, a character that would be remembered long after the release of the film. In my opinion, he did an amazing job. Bickle is a psychotic racist, driven by his past. A person who sees the impurity of men at night. He is nothing but a bystander who will stand up in the end. De Niro managed to make him a sympathetic character, laking any social skills, with an unstable personality and repressed feelings.
"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 do you think you're talking to? Oh yeah? Huh? Ok."
It's a good thing that Scorsese did not join priesthood. He's somewhat religious even today but he managed to flunk his studies and attended a film school. I'm not religious at all.. but "thank God"! What I've heard, Scorsese had some difficulties with intoxicants throughout the 60's and 80's. I've even read that during filming he would snort some lines... When you look at his performance as the jealous husband in one scene it really doesn't come as a surprise. Scorsese did not intend to make a performance in the movie but what I've read, the person who was cast for the role didn't show up. So Scorsese made his own memorable contribution...
"Have you ever seen what a .44 Magnum will do to a woman's pussy? Now that you should see. What a .44 Magnum will do to a woman's pussy that you should see."
Schrader managed to give Bickle's character similarities to a real life person called Arthur Bremer. Bremer tried to kill US president Nixon and governor Wallace. The later one he managed to paralyze. Bremer kept a diary with him which was released in 1973 as 'An Assassin's Diary'. Schrader has told that he hadn't read the diary when he wrote 'Taxi Driver'.
I've read that Schrader has said that during writing he suffered of depression and even had some suicidal thoughts. A loner who would just drift around on the streets and explore the distress of other loners. Not sure if all of what I've read is true but at least he has written an excellent script on which the actors and Scorsese could base their work on.
Of course, Bickle has to have something that drives him besides his hate towards the scum and other low-lifes of NYC. 'Taxi Driver' has two female characters that become important to Bickle. In my opinion the more important one is Jodie Foster's character Iris. Iris is a child prostitute who left home and started walkin' the streets. The character has a certain innocence in her, something that would also affect Bickle. During filming, Foster was only 12-13 years old. Scorsese did not put her in the explicit or intimate scenes, for instance the scene in which Iris puts her hands on Bickle's zipper.
By the way, Foster's performance was modeled on a real-life teen prostitute. This woman was hired as a consultant to Foster and even had a small part as Iris's friend.
This superb portrayal of a teen prostitute gave Jodie Foster, a former Disney child actor, her first Oscar nomination. Little did she know that her performance would have an impact on her life later on by a person called John Hinckley...
"I don't like what I'm doing, Sport."
Cybill Shepherd has the other important female role as Betsy. A real dream girl with golden hair and white dresses, always cheerful, she is the opposite of Bickle with her optimism. Bickle's ultimate fantasy woman. It was close that Shepherd would not be given the role. In fact, I've even read that she wasn't that eager to take the role after reading the script. I've also read that De Niro and Shepherd did not come that good together on the set. Maybe because of De Niro staying in character or something else?
But even though De Niro and the producers were not that convinced of Shepherd's acting skills, Scorsese wanted and needed a "pure" blonde for the part. He wanted her and got her. And Shepherd needed work. As a curiosity, Shepherd is the only lead performer who's career didn't reach the same level as the others. But I liked her performance in the movie. She is the perfect and at the same time wrong person for Bickle's affection.
"They... cannot... touch... her"
And the last character that I'm going to mention largely is Harvey Keitel's character called Sport. Keitel was considered for the role of Bickle. After losing it to De Niro, he was offered a part as the campaign manager. Keitel didn't want the role, maybe because it was so insignificant, but asked to play the pimp instead. Keitel's performance is almost just as good as De Niro's. De Niro's performance is ultimatelly the best performance I've ever seen on screen but Keitel managed to make a smaller character as Sport a memorable one.
Keitel is an actor of the same level as De Niro. Both of 'em concentrate fully on their characters. He spent almost a month with a real pimp. I've read that Keitel even improvised scenes with the pimp to fully understand what makes them do such work. Keitel had some difficulties to adjust to the scenes he did with Foster but like a real pro, he managed to put "the filth of it all" behind him. And this next quote, even though it is really obnoxious, says everything necessary of Sport...
"Well, take it or leave it. If you want to save yourself some money, don't fuck her. Cause you'll be back here every night for some more. Man, she's twelve and a half years old. You never had no pussy like that. You can do anything you want with her. You can cum on her, fuck her in the mouth, fuck her in the ass, cum on her face, man. She get your cock so hard she'll make it explode. But no rough stuff, all right?"
Even the smaller roles are in my opinion just as important as the leads. Peter Boyle's character Wizard, a philosophical cab driver, someone Bickle could even call a friend. Albert Brooks plays Betsy's co-worker Tom, in his first film role. A real yuppie who has his eyes on Betsy. Victor Argo, the clerk at the store, who has probably one of the most violent scenes in the film. Steven Prince as the gun salesman. All of these contribute perfectly on the making of Taxi Driver into the best film in the history of cinema.
So, you've probably understood already that the acting is superb in 'Taxi Driver'. But what about the editing, cinematography or music?
Bernard Herrmann's jazzy score is minimalistic in its ways but it is in fact one of the most mesmerizing scores I've heard. I don't own that many soundtracks but 'Taxi Driver's' soundtrack is one to own if you appreciate the work of film musicians.
Michael Chapman's cinematography, along with Tom Rolf's and Melvin Shapiro's editing, play an important part in the movie. The opening scene in which a yellow cab drives thru thick smoke and Herrmann's dreamlike score plays on the background... Filmmaking in its most perfect way.
One specific sequence to mention is the bloodbath in the end. The camerawork, the lighting, special effects, the music. I've never seen an intensity of same caliber in any other film. The moment when Bickle puts his hand near his head to demonstrate (or mimic) a gun effect and having an eerie grin on his face... Awesome.
De Niro's charismatic performance as Bickle, a partly sympathetic character who becomes some kind of hero at the end, Scorsese's perfect directing along with other crew members collaboration to the making of the film makes 'Taxi Driver' the best film ever. I remember when I saw 'Taxi Driver' for the first time, I was a 15 year old kid who by chance got a copy of the film. I've never been so stunned of any other film than 'Taxi Driver'. The film got under my skin, provoked me in ways I had never even thought that could be possible. Films like these just improve with every viewing.
'Taxi Driver' is very multileveled (don't know if this is a correct word...) This is just a scratch of what can be said of this film. I'll even say that 'Taxi Driver' is very critical against our society. What could happen when society doesn't do anything to make things better for common people? Surely there are people who are ready to take justice in their own hands, just as Travis Bickle. This film is very thought provoking, a film that really deserves its place among the best films ever made.
Perfect in every way, this is a film that comes highly recommended to any person who appreciate high-class filmmaking with in-depth characters and top-notch writing.
"Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up." agains the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is someone who stood up."