Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Review: Taxi Driver (1976)

The alternate title for this entry was going to be 'Taxi Driver Or: How I Learned to Stop Postponing and Watch This Film' (a thinly veiled reworking of the film title 'Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb'--coincidentally another film I have to get around to).

There were a few reasons why I took my time in watching Taxi Driver. They are as follows.
1) It was really only recently that I got the urge to want to watch it.
2) I didn't have access to it--today I was lucky enough to find it on the cheap at a dvd store
3) Its R rating was a deterrence (I was expecting lots of violence--yes there's violence, but it wasn't over the t)

Even though I say I was avoiding it, I nonetheless had high expectations about it (It's considered one of Martin Scorsese's best, it's one of the landmarks of the American New Wave, it has much hype over at imdb and elsewere). When I have high expectations I tend to look more closely at every tendril of a film and anticipate the 'wow' moment. Of course, it never comes. But with Taxi Driver what did rush over me at the roll of the closing credits was still positive. The film has much going for it.

I could go on about a few different things. The music was probably the first thing that striked me. It was scored by Bernard Hermann (most known for scoring Hitchcock films--in fact some of the music in Taxi Driver could easily be substituted into a Hitchcock film, that's what I think anyway). There's two recurring music themes in this film. I don't know their titles, but one has this low, humming dangerous feel, and the other one has a more saxophone seedy/sensual sound to it (sort of reminds me of the music they sometimes put on soapies--except Taxi Driver is by no means a soapie). As it usually goes with motion picture music, Hermann's score helps in the creation of the film's atmosphere. The music anticipates the bleakness and loneliness to come.

Of the performances, Robert De Niro as the main character, Travis Bickle, is of course the standout. The intriguing thing about Travis is that if he were a guy in your suburb you'd cast him off as a loony and would want nothing to do with him. Yet since the film gives us a look into Travis' private world and as we're with him for most of the film, you can't help but feel sympathy for him.

Bickle is a Vietnam veteran who has now taken the path of a cab driver. His mundane existence consists of cab driving, taking pills and porn theatres. He's also a pretty observant person and we see that as he witnesses all the seediness and corruption of New York's nightlife. He feels growing despair towards these things and vows to 'clean up' the city. But cleaning up turns into a gun and violence fetish. De Niro portrays Travis' bundle of contradictions--as Bickle's one time love interest Betsy put it--really well (quite characteristically to his dedication to acting, he apparently spent many months refining his taxi driving skills and brushed up on his knowledge on insanity).

Yet the piece of acting that made my jaw figuratively drop was that from a young (12 years old in fact) Jodie Foster, portraying an underage prostitute. It was pretty astonishing to see her talk--and convincingly--about prostitution and the like. Foster's acting is really natural, there's nothing self-conscious about it. Her performance adds to the grittiness of the film.

And what to say about the director that is Martin Scorsese? (On a quick side-note, he actually plays a minor but significant character--a mentally unstable man plotting to kill his wife; he's pretty good).

I have seen six films of Scorsese (do I count The Aviator though? It's been quite a long time since I've seen it) and so far he has a flawless track record. His films flow well and all have smooth editing, it's such that it's hard for me to actually speak of Scorsese's directing and what it achieves. Except that it achieves what filmmaking should--he let's the story be told and to be told well. He also happens to be a daring director in my opinion, anyone would be to make something like 'Taxi Driver'. I think (as the cliche goes), if it were in lesser hands the film wouldn't have been quite as good. I think it was also a risky film because Scorsese seems to me the director who makes each project personal, he seems to put a lot into his films, and it's not unlike the risk that actors put when they're out on stage or in front of a stagecrew. You're exposed to scrutiny.

What can be said in short of Taxi Driver? Only that I think it's a film that's rightfully praised, except that I don't want to blow it out of proportion. It didn't have that loud spark, but alas sometimes the impact of that kind of film can quickly fizzle out anyway. No, I think Taxi Driver more quietly and deeply weaves into the consciousness and promises to stay there for longer.

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