ALWAYS KEEPING AN EYE ON HOLLYWOOD!!!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

JOHNNY CHAZZ' TURN: TAXI DRIVER- A STUDY OF FILM WITHIN A THEATRICAL SHOWING


JOHNNY CHAZZ & JER checking out TAXI DRIVER!
JOHNNY CHAZZ: Great films are few and far between – there is little doubt about that these days. We were so blessed looking back three decades ago with the multitude of high-caliber films that completely spoiled audiences. Quality scripts, courageous directors, high impact and convincing performances, gripping plot lines that we could actually relate to and sets that were commonplace for the common man were all factors setting the right mood for a memorable cinematic experience. This week, CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT takes a close look at one film in particular that obviously falls into that category: 1976’s “Taxi Driver.”
The original 1976 trailer for TAXI DRIVER
In some ways, director Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” is a film that could be referred to as nothing short of a masterpiece in the cinema world. The film may also be viewed as a prophecy tale combined with a social statement on what society had become during the 1970’s. The film was honest; the central character was someone most people could relate to; the film was cynical, but also stayed true to the intended narrative.
Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle
Robert DeNiro (Travis Bickle) is, of course, the central character in the film – and looking back, who else really could have pulled this role off with such conviction? The famous line that is quoted on a daily basis “Are you talking to me?” is a staple for the film and a real commentary / snap-shot of where the country and its people were at that time….at least emotionally. In a sense, this is the pure definition of immaturity: a child who plays with guns while trying to be the tough guy.

Like so many other films during the time (and foreign films alike), there was a centralized theme that made the movie, in itself, so addicting. These include: Feelings of loneliness in the big city; paranoia (examine Antonioni’s “Blow Up”, Kubrick’s “2001 Space Odyssey” or even Coppola’s “The Conversation” for similar themes); and themes focusing on anger and resentment towards both individuals and the wretched and unforgiving society as a whole.

Writer Paul Schrader
Paul Schrader’s “Taxi Driver” script is nothing short of perfection. What a shame that the very concept of a well-thought out, original script is such a rarity in Hollywood these days. What is truly amazing is the fact that the entire script was written in less than 30 days when Schrader was at the young age of 26. Schrader stated that when he wrote the script, he himself was a mirror-image of Travis Bickle in the film. Drawing upon one’s own life and true feelings is one of the keys to developing such a rich and honest screenplay / script. Schrader further stated that when he was writing the script, he was going through a major change in his life – or rather, an internal crisis when he was constantly enamored by sex and pornography, violence, drugs, and even thoughts of suicide was a daily ritual. In a sense, Schrader viewed the taxi driver as a dead human body that simply drove around the city in a coffin (the cab) surrounded by faceless crowds, a cold and careless world while remaining in strict isolation. This was the very “mood” that allowed the primary character of Travis Bickle to be portrayed so well in the film. Thus, this allowed for motivation of character and, for the audience, to empathize with such a disillusioned and disturbed human being.

Composer Bernard Herrmann
The musical score within “Taxi Driver” is (and no pun intended) specifically what drives the film. Household name Bernard Herrmann (“Vertigo”) wrote his final score for Scorsese in the film “Taxi Driver” in 1976. The score is jazzy, but continuously remains low and dark. The sounds are solemn, sultry at times, haunting and ever-so surreal. The musical score aims to magnify the solitary confinement of Travis Bickle in both mind and body over the course of the film. There is a discord – rather, a disconnect surrounding the contempt that DeNiro’s character has with the city he calls home – New York. The score also reflects the way in which Travis views his outside world; and simultaneously the way in which the world views such an “outsider”….by simply ignoring him.

One of the great directors, Jean-Luc Godard (“Masculin-Feminin”; “Breathless”; “Contempt”) once said that all great movies are successful for all the wrong reasons. So why was “Taxi Driver” so successful? Perhaps it was the focus on loneliness felt by the masses that went to the film in droves when the film was released. However, although the film is much deeper than that – yet, it is precisely the element of solitude and loneliness that gives the film that proper balance between what makes a film deeply “personal” and what makes it, in a sense, “political” as the film does indeed make a political and social statement in the strongest way.

Jodie Foster as Iris
The casting of Jodie Foster (Iris), Cybill Shepherd (Betsy), Albert Brooks (Tom), Peter Boyle (Wizard) and Harvey Keitel (Sport) is another area of formidability in the film. Each actor / actress offers a stunning and riveting performance that is not only memorable and believable, but lends itself perfectly to the resolve and fate of Travis Bickle’s life.

Bottom line: “Taxi Driver” remains (in the heart and mind of Johnny Chazz) one of the most impacting and memorable films of the last 50+ years. Scorses’s direction and cameo appearances in the film are virtually un-matched to this day – and both his use of the cameo as well as the score pay a real homage to the late and great Alfred Hitchcock. “Taxi Driver” as a film is suspenseful – and it is the interplay of score, suspense and script that create such a tremendous work of art on the screen. Is it a period-piece film? Is it a horror-flick? Perhaps it is a character study? No matter how one classifies the film, it remains a low-budget success that many considered, at the time, a true long shot. It made a connection however – and it was the mood that set the tone of the film giving our main character the motivation to wind through such a powerful plot. This is what audiences crave – a character they can understand and actually believe in.

Early this coming week, Johnny Chazz (myself) will be making a trip to California to join Jer (CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT) for a special viewing of “Taxi Driver”. I of course am eager about attending this event and, but better yet, I am quite eager to hear Jer’s remarks upon experiencing “Taxi Driver” once again……but this time, on the big screen.

JER: It is now the late evening/ early morning of Tuesday June 5, 2012 and only a few hours have passed since attending the special ‘one night only’ presentation of TAXI DRIVER at one of the more prestigious theaters in the Palm Springs region. Many thoughts and visions are immediately stirred in my mind as to how this film constantly continues to conjure emotions, regardless of the numerous viewings I have had of this film since my early teenage years. Why and how is it that this film continues to impact me and others in attendance after a very close 40 years later? It was interesting and pleasing to see a variety of different age groups in attendance: both older teens and mature members were gathered for what has been either their up-tenth or first time viewing.

To begin with, ALL films should and need to be seen on the big screen! Period! I can still recall the impact that JAWS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, SCHINDLER’S LIST, LORD OF THE RINGS and other memorable experiences felt like. I was truly blessed and lucky enough to have had a chance to have seen them on the big screen. These ‘larger than life’ moments, caught on film, cause and create a certain kind of feeling about what gets recorded in your head as the “emotional history” or “emotional experience."

I want to say I was about 13 years old when I first saw TAXI DRIVER on a VHS videocassette... as for most people that age, the impact made was caused mostly from the explicitness of the film, with not much attention placed on the true plot, due to my age and not being able to digest the film for everything it had to offer within its primary impact. What I remembered most, at that age, were the violent moments, the foul language and the intensity of DeNiro’s role as Travis Bickle. Those were the things I recalled the most. Fortunately, over the years, I have been able to create a much larger appreciation for the film, the craftsmanship of director Martin Scorsese, the impacting score by Bernard Herrmann and the cinematography by Academy Award nominated Michael Chapman (RAGING BULL, GHOSTBUSTERS II).

The concrete jungle that is New York in the mid to late 1970’s is also considered a protagonist to the telling of this story. The city is the backbone to this scenario. Bickle is a man who is frustrated with the filth and scum that the city has become...to quote, he calls the city a “cess pool.” The audience is subjected to many street scenes that create the image of poverty (we view a couple of bums either on the streets or on stoops), crime (a police car has pulled over and arrested a man in the background within a scene), mishandling of the community (streets are littered with trash), adulterous behaviors (pimps and hookers are virtually in every scene, in addition to the accessibility of pornography through the numerous XXX- rated theaters shown).
This clip focuses on the characteristics of typical New York 

Peter Boyle as 'Wizard'
As we are subjected to the emotional decline of Bickle’s world, we feel a sense of awkwardness as to how he presents himself to others around him. He asks Wizard (Peter Boyle) for advice and then baulks back “that is probably the worst advice I have ever heard”, taking Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) on their second date, to a porn theater no less, and doesn’t know that his judgment was deemed inappropriate. Let’s focus on this for a moment...Bickle IS now considered a victim of his own surroundings by not realizing that a gentleman would never escort a woman to an immoral movie house... but he did! On top of that, we are honestly led to believe that Bickle did not know that he did wrong and was genuinely concerned when Betsy walks out of the theater and hails a cab to make a quick getaway. Here is a man who wants to rid of the garbage around him, yet, he is actually viewed as part of the problem of the city being the “cess pool” he claims it to be.

A reoccurring ‘character’ that plays throughout the film is the musical score by the late Bernard Herrmann. As JC had stated, TAXI DRIVER was the last film scored by Herrmann and his unfortunate passing took place weeks before TAXI DRIVER was released in theaters. The music is very reminiscent of a jazz quartet consisting of a saxophone, percussion, piano and bass. The sound of an alto sax is the primary instrument that speaks the most profoundly throughout the film. Making regular appearances in numerous scenes involving Bickle driving, in his low- rent apartment and admiring Betsy from a distance... the music can and is used in many different movements.
Enjoy the opening theme composed by Bernard Herrmann

Cybill Shepherd as Betsy
Finally, let’s talk about the directorial eye of Martin Scorsese. His visual perspective of the world he is unraveling to the audience does not rob from the fantastic character study of various people we are introduced to. Travis Bickle is the first: within the first 3 or 4 minutes, Bickle is finalizing the interviewing process of becoming a cab driver and we have learned about his insomnia and the fact that he had been honorably discharged from his military service. Betsy: seems like a do-gooder who believes in the political campaign she works for. She might be considered a bit prudish and indecisive as to what she wants and we are left with a mystery about who she is towards the very end. Iris: the heroine who doesn’t know that is who she is in this story. A 13 year old runaway who works the streets as a prostitute... she may be looking for an escape and maybe influenced by her pimp, Sport (Harvey Keitel). Through Scorsese’s direction, these characters find a way of interacting and the sudden introduction of them to the viewing audience.

So, my overall take in watching TAXI DRIVER in a theater on the big screen... there is no comparison, of course. Details are lost on a TV... regardless of how big your HD Flat Screen is! The feeling is incomparable to sitting in a large room with these images projected onto a large theatrical screen. It made me appreciate the film so much more and better understand what audiences felt and walked away from back in 1976 when they went to the movies to see TAXI DRIVER within its theatrical run.

What are your thoughts on TAXI DRIVER? An American contemporary classic or typical 1970's trash? Would you pay to see an older film in theaters or would stay at home and watch it on TV? We always greatly appreciate all comments and will reply back to all!

Make sure you come back and see us again on WEDNESDAY JUNE 13th when JER takes the wheel and takes us for another cinematic ride! Enjoy!

Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!

6 comments:

  1. Taxi Driver was not and is still not a film for everyone. For most people, the main character played by DENIRO is not exactly what you would refer to as likeable or a hero. He really is the enemy to everyone in society when you really think about it. The film does stand the test of time and as you both said in the blog, watching this on the big screen is the only way to experience it. AARON @ FLA.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well said, Aaron! It is very true that this film is not attended for the average audience and not everyone will get or want to see it. I guess it has always been understood that DeNiro's character portrayal of Bickle has been the enemy of society...but it didn't really register until you worded it as such! Thank you so much for always checking in with us and I hope you are enjoying our topics! Greatly appreciated!!!

      Delete
  2. I totally love everything about this movie. There are so many great things happening visually and with the soundtrack that the plot and the story are almost secondary. The acting by all the characters is pure geunis visuals. Sometimes i am surprised how anyone can think that this is not Scocrseses' best movie he ever made. Abram --

    ReplyDelete
  3. Amen to that, Abram-

    As young a director as Scorsese was at the time that he made TAXI DRIVER, alot of credit needs to be given ot this man for what he wanted to put onto film! You are so right in capturing all of the elements as he did! Moreover, I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to see a film you have cherished on the big screen... when given the chance...take it!
    Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
  4. It (Taxi DRIVER)is the one movie that shows NYC as the cess pool that it really was and even remains today in the minds of the common man - especially in the cab driving trade. The movie is just perfect on all accounts in my opinion and I am glad you both talked about it with praise this week.

    Christian

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Christian,

      It is always welcoming to hear from other fans about contemporary classics like TAXI DRIVER. Both Johnny Chazz and myself (Jer) try to keep our blogsite well-rounded by talking about everything...mostly focusing on hot topics or films and issues that need to be recognized and/ or addressed.
      Thank you for your words and for commenting!

      Delete