Taxi Driver – 1976

I started watching Hollywood movies in the mid seventies when I was in high school. So, all the movies I watched are still etched in memory. Though it is tenth in the series, the first Bond film I watched was ‘The Spy Who Loved Me.’

I was into watching action blockbusters ala Enter The Dragon, so all the good films of 1970s, like One Flew over the cuckoo’s Nest, or Deer Hunter or Apocalypse Now or for that matter Taxi Driver passed by me.

It was much later I started watching some of the most acclaimed movies of the seventies, but never got around to watch the Taxi Driver though the movie featured my favorite actors – Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster and one of the directors I admire most, Martin Scorsese. I am not sure it was screened by Star Movies or HBO in India.

As I mentioned in my previous blog One Down – Twenty To Go., I am using the forced social distancing holidays to catch up on these movies and watched the Taxi Driver last Sunday.

Travis Bickle, played Robert De Niro (RDN) suffers from insomnia and becomes a Taxi Driver to spend the sleepless nights on road and earn a living. He drives checkered cab for long hours and doesn’t refuse fares to poorer or violent parts of town. He is fascinated by a lady (Betsy – played by Cybill Shepherd) working at senator’s campaign office. The first date starts well but the second or third one ends up in a disaster when RDN takes her to porn film on a movie date. He is already suffering from the nightmares of the Vietnam war and the rejection tips him further. One day he picks up a fare (played by Marin Scorsese himself) who after asking him to stop the car at a kerb, tells him to keep the meter running and he explains in details how an affair by his wife with a black man has made him disgusted and how he plans to kill them both.

When a fellow taxi driver asks him initially to keep a ‘piece,’ RDN rejects the idea saying he doesn’t want to carry a gun. One day a young girl (Jodie Foster) gets into his cab, but gets immediately pulled out by a pimp. RDN sees her couple of more times.

His gets more disillusioned and buys half dozen guns of different calibre. He exercises to get fit and vows one day the scum of New York streets would be cleaned. After a botched attempt to kill the senator, he flies into a rage, kills the pimp who keeps Jodie (he also mails her money so that she can go back to her parents) in his custody and the lodge owner and he tries to kill himself but runs out of bullet. He is severely wounded but recovers. Betsy (the campaign lady gets into his Taxi and praises him for his heroic act. RDN smiles and drives his cab away.

Why is this movie so special?

Today’s generation may not be aware of this, but New York in the seventies was one of the most dangerous place to live. The crime rate was very high, the subway was not safe, streets were filled with filth and the city Government was 50% short of cash in it’s budget. You can google it, but the following photograph from Atlantic.com can provide an hint.

New York 1974 2013
https://bit.ly/2wM8EfR – Picture Courtesy Atlantic.com & Google Street.

The change in RDN from just a cab driver who has serious mental issues to a vigilante is just amazing to watch. He just transforms in front of your eyes. Actually Robert De Niro took a Cab Driver Licence and drove a taxi to do his role authentically (method actor and all that). What is so astonishing is, he looks like a man who has not slept for weeks throughout the movie. It is almost scary when he starts saying, ‘You talkin to me?’ It is an amazing performance. You can watch this movie just to see RDN saying this iconic line, ‘You talkin to me?’

You talkin

Jodie Foster played the young prostitute in the movie (twelve and half years old) and her performance just belies her age. RDN and JF probably appear in 3 scenes together, each one lasting a minute or two but they produce magic.

The movie was shot in a shoestring budget. The director and cameraman improvised with whatever they had to produce cinematic brilliance. The neon lights and New York street and streets are brought to life. It is not a simple story to narrate, but the screenplay  by Paul Schrader made this possible. A perfect blend of great story, cinematography, acting and direction.

It is told that Brian De Palma first got hold of this story who thought he could not do it and passed it on to his good friend Martin Scorsese paving the way for Marin Scorsese and Robert De Niro’s partnership for the second time. And after forty years they are still making films together. Irishman anyone?

I recommend this movie to all serious movie watchers. It is available in YouTube – rent or buy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHGDeKAFVI0) or Google Play.

I wanted to make a full doodle for the featured image but ended up making half doodle & half collage. Looks like a steep learning curve.

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