Sergio Leone once told Martin Scorsese that “The King of Comedy” was Scorsese’s first mature movie. There was no fancy camera moves or cutting in what I find to be one of Scorsese’s most disturbing movies. Over at The New Yorker, Richard Brody picks “The King of Comedy” as his DVD of the week. I haven’t seen it in years but I get the willies just thinking about it. Maybe it’s time to check it out again.
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:
The summer before my senior year in high school I got a job as a messenger in a post-production house in Manhattan. Martin Scorsese was editing “The Last Temptation of Christ” in the building. The movie was scheduled to debut at the New York Film Festival in September but there was so much controversy surrounding it, the date was pushed up. So Scorsese and his team of editors worked around the clock to mix the sound. One Saturday, I came into work to sit next to the projector in the machine room and watch. After an hour, Scorsese invited me inside. I was supposed to go visit my grandfather who was recovering from surgery at Lennox Hill, but I stayed in the dark mixing studio all afternoon. I watched and listened.
Scorsese was approachable that summer. He complimented me on my t-shirt collection, talked to me about movies, and one day when I brought my friends in, trying to show off, Scorsese spotted me and said hello, a huge thrill.
The next summer, I’d graduated high school and Scorsese was shooting a gangster movie called “Wise Guy” (later changed to “Goodfellas). The Dailies–footage from the previous day’s shoot–were transfered to videotape for Robert DeNiro. Whenever I had down time between a run, I snuck into the transfer room and watched take after take of Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, DeNiro and the gang. I’d never been so anxious to see a movie in my life. A few months later, I was walking past a studio where they were mixing the sound and I heard “Monkey Man,” my favorite Stones song. I stopped dead in my tracks.
Are you kidding me? This is going to be the best movie ever.
I saw “Goodfellas” the day it opened, the first showing, high noon, over on the east side somewhere. Then, I saw it four more times in the theater.
That was 20 years ago. Check out the oral history of the movie featured over at GQ. It’s not great but it gives you some flavor behind the making of the movie that put Scorsese’s career back on the map and practically annoited him as the Dean of American Directors.