47 Years of Student Run Cinema
Student Film Society of the Year 2002, 2005, 2006
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Martin Scorsese, USA, 1976, 114 minutes
Legendary for Robert De Niro's intense method performance; Paul Schrader's hard-hitting exisentialist script, a blend of Sartre's La Nausee and the diaries of would-be political assassin Arthur Bremer; and "movie brat" Martin Scorsese's extraordinarily fluid, cine-literate direction, Taxi Driver is one of the key films of the 1970s as film and as example of the zeitgeist, and thereby an absolute must-see for anyone who loves cinema.
Operating on multiple levels, the film presents a deeply ironic examination of the myth of the cowboy via the figure of Travis Bickle, a would-be John Wayne hero displaced in time from the 1870s to the 1970s and in place from the frontier to the mean streets of New York.
Taking a job as a taxi driver, the Vietnam veteran's fragile mind soon begins to crack in the face of the corruption that surrounds him most everywhere he looks. Things come to a head over two women, the unattainable campaign worker Betsy - the classic 'virgin' - and too-available 13-year-old runaway prostitute Iris - the classic 'whore'.
After a disastrous date when Travis takes Betsy to a porno theatre - some fascinating documentary material of the pre-clean up 42nd Street - Travis resolves to take a stand, to make the world sit up and take notice. His target: Presidential candidate Palantine, the father figure who, in his warped mind, represents the reason Betsy has rejected him...
Forget The Assassination of Richard Nixon, good as it is; Taxi Driver is the original and best.
Review by Miichel Gentil
Written for EUFS Programme Autumn 2005
Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) cannot sleep and takes a job as a taxi driver.
Working long shifts, alienated and lonely, he develops tentative and very different relationships with two women. He wants Betsy (Cybil Shepherd) a campaign worker for senator Palantine, but cannot have her. He can have Iris (Jodie Foster), the 13-year-old prostitute, but does not want her.
Sickened and disgusted by the filth and perversion he sees all around him, Travis decides to take a stand...
Though its scenes of Times Square have been consigned to the history books by ex-Mayor Rudolph Guiliani's campaigns, Taxi Driver has stood the test of time well and remains a landmark of 1970s cinema and a high-water mark in the careers of its three key contributors - Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader.
De Niro, who famously moonlighted as a cab driver in preparation for the role, turns in a flawless, totally compelling performance. (I first saw Taxi Driver as the second half of a double bill with Mean Streets and wouldn't have realised but for the trademark mole that it was De Niro in both films.) Not that it is just a one-man show, with the likes of Peter Boyle, Albert Brooks and the inimitable Harvey Keitel providing superb support.
Scorsese's direction is just as brilliant. Ostensibly objective, his mise-en-scene is in reality almost totally subjective, right from the opening credits, where the taxi emerges, looming, out the smoke, like some beast from hell. We view the world through Travis's eyes, little realising that we have been drawn into identifying with a borderline psychotic's perspective until it is too late.
Against such competition, Schrader's writing cannot but come across as the weakest link. Specifically, the scenes between Travis and Betsy are never quite believable, unless one accepts the argument that they are all in Travis's imagination - always a justification for poor writing in my book.
And while Schrader suggests an unconscious motive underlying Travis's taking Betsy to a porno theatre, I would argue for a more prosaic truth: that, between the time he first scripted the scene and the time it was shot, "porno chic" - when porn films briefly escaped the grindhouse raincoater audience - came and went.
Nevertheless, Schrader is perhaps the only American screenwriter out there who would dare imagine a blend of John Ford's The Searchers; Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest, A Man Escaped and Pickpocket; Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and Psycho, Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground, Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea, and, last but not least, the diaries of would-be political assassin Arthur Brenner. He's certainly the only one who could pull it off this well.
If you haven't seen Taxi Driver yet, why not?
Review by Keith Hennessey Brown
Written for EUFS Programme Spring 2002
Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) - a lonely, introverted Vetnarn veteran - finds that he can no longer sleep, and takes a job as a NY taxi driver, working long hours. He becomes obsessed with the 'scum' of the city. He drifts further and further into his own world of paranoia and hate, eventually attempting to assassinate a presidential candidate.
Taxi Driver portrays perhaps better than any other film the sleeze and hopelessness of a big city, aided considerably by Bernard Herrmann's eerie score. Scorsese, writer Schraeder, and De Niro manage to depict perfectly the slip of an unbalanced soul into complete insanity, although in a vital twist Travis ends up the hero. Ironic considering he not only attempted to assassinate a politician but also murdered three men and then attempted to kill himself. But this sums up Travis. He is portrayed very much as the victim - at heart a thoughtful and considerate man, even a bit of a romantic. Just as he unwittingly became sucked into a frightening. violent and obsessive world from which he could not escape, so he unwittingly became a hero. Even then, as the film ends, we are left uncertain whether he has changed, or whether he will continue to exist trapped in his own claustrophobic world.Taxi Driver is a thought-provoking. energetic, disturbing film, and certainly among the best ever made.
Review by Matthew Bull
Taken from EUFS Programme 1995-96