Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Taxi Driver (1976) New York Neo Noir Masterpiece

Directed by Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull (1980), After Hours (1985), Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995)), written by Paul Schrader (Hardcore (1979), Raging Bull (1980)), cinematography by Michael Chapman (Hardcore (1979), ), Music by the legendary Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane (1941), On Dangerous Ground (1951), Psycho (1960), Cape Fear (1962).

The film stars Robert De Niro (Raging Bull (1980), Angel Heart (1987)) as Travis Bickle, Jodie
Foster (The Silence of the Lambs (1991)) as hooker Iris, Harvey Keitel (The Two Jakes (1990), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Bad Lieutenant (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), ) as the pimp Sport, Cybill Shepherd (The Last Picture Show (1971)) as Betsy, Albert Brooks as Tom, Leonard Harris as Charles Palantine, Peter Boyle (The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), Hardcore (1979), Hammett (1982)) as Wizard, Harry Northup as Doughboy, Norman Matlock (Across 110th Street (1972)) as Charlie T, Martin Scorsese as Passenger Watching Silhouette, Steven Prince as Andy - Gun Salesman, Diahnne Abbott as Concession Girl, Bob Maroff as the Mafioso and finally New York City circa 1976.

The film and credits start with a cloud of steam hissing into the wet night on a Manhattan street.
Bernard Herman's dual score begins with stylized discordant city sounds that slowly build tension, punctuated by a pulsing beat that's ratchet sprung. The pressure is getting jacked. A yellow Checker Cab glides through the frame, dispersing the vapor and exposing the city. 

We see a closeup of a pair of observing eyes and then segue to what they see.

The score now changes to a classy brassy iconic motif for New York City it's along the lines of Alfred Newman's "Streetscene" a score that was reused for a handful of classic 20th Century Fox New York based Noir. Our view simultaneously changes we see a New York through Classic Hollywood "tinted" glasses in the subsequent sequences the city is a dreamscape of Broadway lights, chase lit theater marquee, and streetlamps floating through the blurry sheen of rain on a Checker windshield. Neon lights shine and reflect off wet pavement, passing vehicles and drops of rain on plate glass.

The film is full of gorgeously stylish musical interludes showcasing timeless impressions of New York City.

Travis (De Niro)

Travis Bickle is an alienated ex-jarhead who follows his dream and comes to New York, but New York isn't for everyone it's real not a fantasy. Travis is wound a bit too tight, he's a nut job, a psychotic, he can't quite go with the flow or melt in the pot. Pill popping habitually chills him out, and insomnia keeps him awake, he walks the streets guzzling peach brandy, he rides the subways, the busses, he crashes and burns in 24 hr porno grindhouse theaters. He figures that if he's doing anyway, he might as well get paid for it. Travis applies and becomes The Taxi Driver. In a contemporary semi-hard boiled manner Travis narrates the  thoughts and feelings that he writes in his diary. His personality and the musical motifs, phasing from wistful dreamer to disgusted realist, are in mesmerising accompaniment to the triggering images that flow past his cab windows. 

Travis Bickle: Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man

The tension continues to escalate, The days go on and don't end, the score transitions into the slow methodical haunting beat of an ancient war drum. You get the impression that when the drum stops you know something is going to happen. 

Travis Bickle: 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.

Travis manages to find a relief valve is the form of a beautiful angel named Betsy. Betsy is dream girl, she's proper, looks like a sorority sister, a booster, a princess. She works for presidential candidate Charles Palantine in a temporary office. Travis is infatuated. Travis is obsessed.

Betsy...They... cannot... touch... her. (Shepherd) 

Travis Bickle: I first saw her at Palantine Campaign headquarters at 63rd and Broadway. She was wearing a white dress. She appeared like an angel. Out of this filthy mess, she is alone. They... cannot... touch... her. 

It's his destiny, but he tries too hard, he comes on too strong. He volunteers or Palantine. Betsy is intrigued though, Travis knows what he wants and she is flattered. They meet then make a date. 

exit from porn theater

Betsy gives Travis the brush

Travis left to the whores and skunk pussies
Clueless Travis takes her to a pornflick, she balks at the box office but Travis tells her that it's not 
that kind of movie and that a lot of couples go. She goes in reluctantly. But it is that kind of movie. Betsy doesn't kink that way. Betsy dumps him on the sidewalk and leaves in a cab. Travis is distraught, he tries calling, he sends flowers, they come back, finally he stomps into the office for a final confrontation. He's asked to leave and he tells Betsy that she is like all the rest of them.

The war drum beat begins again. The daily grind. Travis is boiling. Travis is nearing a tipping point. He confides to Wizard that he has this irresistible impulse, he's going to do something. He's got bad ideas in his head. He's going to break bad. Wizard doesn't pick up on this feeble cry for help. In Travis's hate for Betsy he's fixating on Palantine. Assassinating him will hurt Betsy. 

"I'm gonna do something"

Wizard (Boyle) and Travis (De Niro)

"Are you talking to me"?
Travis gets a connected with a gun salesman from fellow cabbie Doughboy. Travis purchases a personal mini arsenal, a .44 magnum, a .38 snubnose, a Colt .25 automatic, and a .380 Walther. He also straps a knife with tape to his boot.

Iris (Foster)

Travis and Sport (Keitel)
A new quasi outlet appears in the form of teenage hooker named Iris who climbs quickly into his cab one night in the East Village. Before Travis pulls out, Sport a pimp drags Iris forcefully out of the cab. Travis' new dream is to try to save Iris, to be her knight in shining armor. Travis begins to cruise the East Village watching for Iris. When he finally finds her he pays for her services but instead of sex he tries to get her to split from Sport. Iris is reluctant to leave, she doesn't want to go home frustrating Travis. He makes a date for breakfast the next day and he tells her that he may be going away for a while

Travis writes a letter to Iris at his apartment saying he will soon be dead, and the money he's putting in the envelope is for her to return home, but Travis's attempt to kill Palantine is aborted by the Secret Service, so he goes to plan two and heads for the East Village whorehouse to "save" Iris. 

Of course it all goes Noirsville in a very twisted way.


Lt. to Rt. Charley T (Matlock) Wizard (Boyle), Doughboy (Northup), Travis (De Niro)


Sport (Keitel) and Iris (Foster)

The cast is perfect, De Niro's universal hayseed in shitkickers, Travis, is thoroughly believable. His fellow cabbies, Wizard (Boyle), Doughboy (Northup), Charlie T (Matlock) add touches of comic relief. Cybill Shepherd, is excellent the caste campaign worker Betsy. Jodie Foster nails the part of Iris, though she comes off a bit too gawky looking for a streetwalker. Harvey Keitel plays a believable Pimp. He as a sequence with Iris where he displays his sweet talking, silver tongued devil, charm to control her. Albert Brooks is Betsy's nerdy, flirting, fellow campaign worker. 

Watch for the sequence with director Martin Scorsese as a cab passenger and fellow lunatic, who rants about killing his wayward wife to Travis. She is screwing a black man and they watch the suggestive silhouettes on an apartment window from the cab. As Scorsese talks the transformation on Travis' face as he recognizes a fellow traveler on the road to wingnut-ville is priceless. 

Nutjob meets fellow Nutjob sequence

Another great sequence is Travis unloading his feelings to Wizard it's shot in the Neo Noir classic red/green clashing color scheme, emphasising the unease. This color scheme is repeated throughout the film in segments where a traffic light shines green or red upon Travis while other light take the opposite color. 

Taxi Driver is not the first Noir to employ a taxi driver as the protagonist, John Payne played an ex pug cab driver in 99 River Street (1953), whose wife is cheating on him with a jewel thief. There is also some quotes of Kubrick's Killers Kiss (1955) in the Times Square sequences and later the V.O. of a letter from Iris's father.

Enough cannot be said for the score. You can eliminated all the dialog and just watch the images accompanied by the music, to me it's New York distilled to its purest essence and on par with Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue. Bravo 10/10 

Bernard Herman Soundtrack Suite from Taxi Driver

1 comment:

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