Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Paul Schrader
Cinematographer: Michael Chapman
Producer: Julia Phillips and Michael Phillips
by Jon Cvack
I think I might not have seen this movie since college, where I watched it at least four or five times (at about 7.5 years ago, I honestly can’t believe this is could be true). There was a 50/50 chance back then that any student apartment would possess a mohawked Travis Bickle posters where he’s holding the two guns pointed toward camera . If there was one thing that film snobs and the rest of the college body agreed upon was that Taxi Driver is a masterpiece, providing the perfect blend of great characters, depth, insight, and action; accessible by anyone - from novice to graduate student cinephile - wishing to watch a great story. If someone wanted to know what film can accomplish this would be one of five films I’d provide them. It’s the rare breed that acts as bridge between high brow art and popular culture, allowing the viewer to take its ideas as far as they’re willing to go.
It opens up with that jazz score playing over the sewer smoke, as the cab drives through, and we receive our first close up of those observing eyes. Watching it after such a length of time has gone by, I was in some ways hoping to see something I hadn’t before, as typically happens with films I once loved and have revisited over the years. Except I think the problem is that I had seen this movie so many times back in college that, like anything else, the magic of discovery was gone. However, one section did leave me a bit more enlightened this time around, and that was the dynamic between Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) and Tom (Albert Brooks). For some reason I remembered their relationship as much more one-sided, with Tom acting as a creepy, borderline dork in order to try and get a date with Betsy. Instead, I discovered a genuine attraction between the pair, with Tom possibly using his position of power to woo Betsy, but still winning her over nonetheless. The relationship was much cuter and light than I recalled, which becomes all the stranger when Travis finally comes by.
To this day I don’t really understand why Betsy goes out with Travis, who is so incredibly creepy in his approach, that her giving in felt a little too plot-serving. Perhaps she wanted to make Tom jealous, but it seemed like a stupid and dangerous way to do such. It all leads to the famous scene where Travis takes Betsy to a porn film, to which she quickly gets up to leave, and in a unique move, keeping her cool, she heads out and gets in a taxi and leaves, never to return again. It’s not often that a movie can introduce a girl as a possible subplot, only to abandon it when the main character makes the wrong decision. It’s like a scratch on a record jumping to the next song. In most instances this would never work, and yet it’s one of the most memorable parts of the film, giving us a taste of where Scorsese would go with later films, always interested in exploring unrelated tangent so long as it was about good character (Wolf of Wall Street, Goodfellas, etc.).
In fact, the entire political backdrop to the film is one of my favorite parts, providing such an eerie vibe throughout the story. Like The Game, it makes me want to experience the whole thing all over again, not fully grasping the details. Although I can’t recall what I felt the first time, I assume it was expecting Travis to kill the Senator. As he sinks further into despair, spouting off his nihilistic rhetoric, watching his mind melt away; as he believes the world is sinking into shit, you can’t but think he’d want to kill the Senator. Even after the first viewings, and even for a second on this one, I always wonder if he’s going to go off and do it. Like many great films (with Titanic being off the top of my head), the characters are so real that I feel as though hoping they’ll make a better decision will change the movie. I think it’s one of the most miraculous reactions to have when watching a film; to actually retain hope that this thing which is unchangeable could maybe be different on a different viewing.
Continue to Part 2...
BELOW: Scorsese on Inside the Actor's Studio
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