Sunday, August 23, 2009

#15 Taxi Driver 1976

I had always been embarrassed, being a film student and never having seen Taxi Driver. But, now, finally, that problem is remedied. I watched Taxi Driver last night and was blown away. It was obviously a very sordid, rather depressing movie, so I can’t say that I enjoyed the story. However, in seeing Taxi Driver, I definitely experienced one of the best made films of all time.

In the role of Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro set new standards for all his successors. Unlike many of the other characters in these films, who have a sizeable amount of childishness in them, Travis Bickle seems to be part pre-teen, as he gets heartbroken over Cybill Shephard’s Betsy and then practices his gun wielding skills in the mirror in the unforgettable “Are you talkin’ to me?” scene. In the beginning of the film, even knowing what the character will morph into, we kind of feel sorry for Bickle. He can’t sleep; he’s anti-social, and not event eh girl at the peep show will talk to him. Then, the slow curdling of Bickle’s sanity was perfectly depicted on screen, as he mutates into trigger-happy man-with-a-mission seen above. He plans to shoot up a political rally, but, having been chased away, decides to kill a pimp, along with others, for the sake of a 12 year old hooker, Iris. The book from which I’m getting this list said that Martin Scorsese would direct the film on the condition that De Niro play Bickle. Thank God he did, because the possibility of another actor in this iconic role is unfathomable.

Iris, also known as Easy, the twelve (and a half) year old prostitute, is played by a young Jodie Foster. For a long time, Jodie Foster has been a role model of mine, because she acts, directs, and has become renowned and respected completely from her own talent. Of course, I had mostly seen her in her later roles, but in watching her in Taxi Driver, I realized that even at such a young age, Foster was outstanding. Foster had relatively little screen time and even less dialogue, but in she certainly used that time to her advantage. She mastered not only the character, who was very complex, but also the human ticks and subtleties that others actors her age would have overlooked.

Finally, the direction. In class, I once saw a student film that Scorsese had done while at NYU, and I recognized some of the artfulness from that film in Taxi Driver. Some of the more creative shots were downright masterful and made the film so much more interesting than it would have been had it been shot traditionally. I also loved how we saw the city through the eyes of Travis Bickle, seeing the scum of the earth on the dark streets of New York. These let us know the condition of the city and emphasized how much Bickle was not actually a part of it. In my opinion, Scorsese not getting an Oscar for this movie (he wasn’t even nominated; the director of Rocky won that year) was ludicrous. It was amazing.

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