"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Million Dollar Movie

I watched horror movies as a kid–respectable ones like “Carrie,” and “The Shining,” “The Exorcist,” and “The Omen,” as well as “Halloween,” and “Friday the 13th.” I also saw a bunch of low-budget horror classics like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “I Spit on Your Grave.” But it was a phase that didn’t last. Horror movies were never my thing, and the older I got the less interested I was in being scared.

I was also just as likely to be scared by an action movie like “The Road Warrior” or “Aliens” or a thriller like “Fatal Attraction” than I was by a horror movie. Horror movies were just iller, with all the blood and guts gore.

I got to thinking about scary movies over the weekend cause of Halloween and you know which one stands out? “Taxi Driver.”

It’s not a horror movie, strictly speaking, but it is a nightmare vision of New York and one that was easy to identify with–the isolation and danger, the fear and violence.

Scorsese once told an interviewer:

It was crucial to Travis Bickle’s character that he had experience life and death around him every second when he was in south-east Asia. That way it becomes more heightened when he comes back; the image of the street at night reflected in the dirty gutter becomes more threatening. I think that’s something a guy going through a war, any war, would experience when he comes back to what is supposedly ‘civilization’. He’d be more paranoid.

Pauline Kael gave it a rave in the New Yorker:

In its own way, this movie, too has an erotic aura. There is practically no sex in it, but no sex can be as disturbing as sex. And that’s what it’s about: the absence of sex–bottled-up, impacted energy and emotion, with a blood-splattering release. The fact that we experience Travis’s need for an explosion viscerally, and that the explosion itself has the quality of consummation, makes “Taxi Driver” one of the few truly modern horror films.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw it, this scene featuring Martin Scorsese himself, really freaked me out…just, so…tense:


1 Matt Blankman   ~  Nov 1, 2010 1:09 pm

Taxi Driver was and is a major touchstone for me. It was one of the films that really opened my eyes to what personal film making was all about.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 1, 2010 1:18 pm

It's an all time classic.

3 Matt Blankman   ~  Nov 1, 2010 1:47 pm

Great quote about the Vietnam vet angle. I think that too often that aspect of Travis gets overlooked, when it seems to me its a major factor in the character's behavior and reactions.

Taxi Driver has a lot to say about the effect of basic loneliness, too.

4 Jon DeRosa   ~  Nov 1, 2010 2:27 pm

I don't recall a single scene that gives off a resolved, comforted feeling. I was off balance the whole time.

5 The Hawk   ~  Nov 1, 2010 3:39 pm

I wrote a comment and it disappeared.

6 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Nov 1, 2010 3:40 pm

Yes, it's a perfect film. In every way.
Similar in its depiction of loneliness and profound isolation is "The Conformist." Two very similar anti-heroes.

7 Matt Blankman   ~  Nov 1, 2010 3:53 pm

Travis could have been a recruit for the Parallax Corporation in The Parallax View, for sure.

8 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Nov 1, 2010 6:08 pm

Perhaps in the minority here but this is not my favorite Scorsesee & De Niro film. I think "King of Comedy" is much deeper, very prescient in 1983 in it's depiction of celebrity worship. And maybe the most uncomfortable film "comedy" ever made. De Niro as Rupert Pupkin is an amazing performance.

9 Chyll Will   ~  Nov 1, 2010 11:32 pm

One of the films I study for substance. The last film Bernard Hermann scored before dying the very night after he finished recording the soundtrack. Herman, Bernstein and Morricone in no particular order...

10 Chyll Will   ~  Nov 1, 2010 11:32 pm

[9] Hermann, of course...

11 SteveF   ~  Nov 2, 2010 1:58 am

I suspect this comment will be wildly unpopular! I almost feel as though I need to apologize for seeing things the way I do. But I ams what I ams and thats all that I ams.

Taxi Driver is a good example of why it's so difficult to evaluate great movies years after they get made.

If you had an 18 year old kid watch this movie, he simply couldn't see it for the classic it was at the time it was released. It's full of themes and storytelling techniques he's seen hundreds of times in hundreds of movies.

Maybe there's just something wrong with me, but especially when it comes to the visual media (television/movies) I find that more often than not I wonder what the big deal is with these purportedly classic films. Intellectually I can understand how, within the context they were made, they were groundbreaking. I just can't see the movie through any eyes but my own. And more often than not what distinguishes these great old films from the mundane films of their era have already been appopriated by other more modern films I've seen.

For me, Taxi Driver is the epitome of that particular problem. I wish I could see the film through the eyes of someone born in 1940. I just can't.

There are exceptions for me. The acting in most films of the 40s, 50s, 60s is an atrocity. So when I see a performance like Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, that's a kind of greatness I can recognize -- though perhaps it's because that even in contemporary film (especially in contemporary film?) there's an overacting epidemic.

Actors need to learn to hide some things from the camera.

12 The Hawk   ~  Nov 2, 2010 9:21 am

Why are my comments not showing up here? And when i cut and paste and repost it says it's a duplicate comment

13 Matt Blankman   ~  Nov 2, 2010 11:19 am

[9] And Herrmann won the Oscar for the *other* movie he scored that year, DePalma's "Obsession."

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