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Taxi Driver is a film directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Paul Schrader. The movie is set in New York Citymarker, soon after the Vietnam War. The film stars Robert De Niro and features Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle, Cybill Shepherd, and a young Jodie Foster. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including "Best Picture", and won the Palme d'Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival.

Plot

Travis Bickle (De Niro) is a lonely and depressed young man of 26. His origins are unknown. He occasionally sends his parents cards, lying about his life and saying he works for the government on a secret project. He settles in Manhattanmarker, where he becomes a night time taxi driver due to chronic insomnia. Bickle spends his restless days in seedy porn theaters and works 12 or 14 hour shifts during the evening and night time hours carrying passengers among all five borough of New York Citymarker. He keeps a diary which is used as narration throughout the film. An honorably discharged Marine, it is implied that he is a Vietnam veteran; he keeps a charred Viet Cong flag in his squalid apartment and has a large scar on his back.

Bickle becomes interested in Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a campaign volunteer for fictional New York Senator Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris), who is running for the presidential nomination and is promising dramatic social change. After watching her from his taxi through the windows of Palentine's campaign office, Bickle enters the campaign office asking to volunteer as a pretext to talk with Betsy and convinces her to go out for coffee. Over the coffee, Betsy agrees to go to a movie with Bickle. She says he reminds her of a line in a Kris Kristofferson song "The Pilgrim, Chapter 33": "He's a prophet and a pusher, partly truth, partly fiction - a walking contradiction." On their date, Bickle takes her to a Swedishmarker sex education film (Language of Love). She is offended and leaves him, taking a taxi home alone. The next day he tries to reconcile with Betsy, phoning her and sending her flowers, but he does not succeed.

Bickle's thoughts begin to turn violent. Disgusted by the petty street crime (especially prostitution) that he witnesses while driving through the city, he now finds a focus for his frustration and begins a program of intense physical training. He buys four pistols from an illegal dealer, Easy Andy (Steven Prince). In front of a mirror, while pulling out a pistol that he attached to a home-made sliding action holster on his right arm, he practices his now-famous saying: "You talkin' to me?" He develops an interest in Senator Palantine's public appearances. In an accidental warm-up, Bickle randomly walks into a robbery in a run-down grocery and shoots the robber (Nat Grant) in the neck; Bickle expresses worry because he has no permit for his gun but the grocery owner (Victor Argo) encourages him to flee the scene and then proceeds to club the near-dead stickup man with a steel pole.

One night while on shift, Iris (Jodie Foster), a 12-year-old child prostitute, gets in his cab, attempting to escape her pimp. Shocked by the occurrence, Bickle fails to drive off and the pimp, "Sport" (Harvey Keitel), reaches the taxi. Sport gives Bickle a crumpled twenty-dollar bill, which haunts Bickle with the memory of his failure to help. Later seeing Iris on the street he pays for her time, although he does not have sex with her and instead tries to convince her to leave this way of life behind. The next day, they meet for breakfast, and Bickle becomes obsessed with saving this naïve child-woman, who thinks hanging out with hookers, pimps, and drug dealers is more 'hip' than dating young boys and going to school.

Bickle acquires a Mohawk haircut and attends a public rally where he attempts to assassinate Senator Palantine. Secret Service men notice him and Bickle flees. Bickle returns to his apartment and then drives to Alphabet Citymarker, where he shoots Sport in the abdomen, after which he storms into the brothel and kills the bouncer. After the wounded Sport confronts Bickle, Bickle shoots him again fatally as well as Iris' mafioso customer. Bickle receives several shots himself. He then tries repeatedly to fire a bullet into his own head from under his chin, but all his weapons are empty, so he resigns himself to resting on a sofa until police arrive on the scene.

The film's dénouement shows Bickle recuperating from the incident. He has received a handwritten letter from Iris's parents who thank him for saving their daughter, and the media hail him as a hero for saving her. Bickle returns to his job, where one night one of his fares happens to be Betsy. She comments on his saving Iris and his media fame, but Bickle denies being any sort of hero. He drops her off without charging her, and as he drives off, he hears a small, piercing noise which prompts him to stare at an unseen object in his taxi's rearview mirror.

Cast



Production

According to Scorsese it was Brian De Palma who introduced him to Schrader. In "Scorsese on Scorsese", edited by David Thompson and Ian Christie, the director talks about how much of the film arose from his feeling that movies are like dreams, or like taking dope and that he tried to induce the feeling of being almost awake. He calls Travis an “avenging angel” floating through the streets of New York City, which was meant to represent all cities. Scorsese calls attention to improvisation in Taxi Driver’s many scenes, such as in the scene between De Niro and Cybill Shepherd in the coffee-shop. The director also cites Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man and Jack Hazan’s A Bigger Splash as inspiration for his camerawork in the movie.

In "Scorsese on Scorsese" the director mentions the religious symbology in the story comparing Bickle to a saint who wants to clean up both life and his mind. Bickle attempts suicide at the end of the movie as a way to mimic the Samurai’s “death with honour” principle.

Shot during a New York summer heat wave and garbage strike, Taxi Driver got into trouble with the MPAA for its violence (Scorsese desaturated the color in the final shoot-out and got an R). To achieve the atmospheric scenes in Bickle's cab, the sound men would get in the trunk and Scorsese and his Camera Operator, Michael Chapman, would squish themselves on the floor of the back seat and use available light to shoot.

In writing the script, Paul Schrader was inspired by the diaries of Arthur Bremer (who shot presidential candidate George Wallace in 1972) and Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. However, the writer also used himself as an inspiration. Right before writing the screenplay Schrader was in a lonely and alienated position much like Bickle. He had lost his girlfriend along with the apartment he was sleeping in, and he spent a few weeks living alone, desperate, depressed, and drunk in his car.

Film critic Stephen Hunter's review of the film suggests that the assumption that Bickle is a Vietnam war veteran may not be accurate. Hunter points out how the character's military clothing and reaction to being around firearms seem incongruous for a combat veteran. Hunter's alternate theory is that Bickle may have been a loner who took up the veteran persona as part of his legion of personal/psychological problems. A scene early in the film includes Bickle explaining to the cab company personnel officer that he was honorably discharged from the Marines, though there is no clear paperwork in the scene or any clarification of that point in the screenplay. However, in the initial character description, Schrader writes that Bickle wears "a worn beige Army jacket with a patch reading, "King Kong Company 1968-70", though the dates may have simply given Bickle the information to create his identity.

However, in an interview Schrader confirmed that he decided to make Bickel a Vietnam vet because the national trauma of the war seemed to blend perfectly with Bickle’s paranoid psychosis making his experiences after the war more intense and threatening. Thus, Bickle chooses to drive his taxi anywhere in the city as a way to feed his hate.

While preparing for his role as Bickle, De Niro was filming Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 in Italymarker. According to Boyle, he would "finish shooting on a Friday in Romemarker... get on a plane... (and) fly to New York", whereupon De Niro obtained a cab driver's license. He would then go to a garage, pick up the cab and drive around New York picking up passengers, returning it before he had to depart for Rome again. He apparently also lost 35 pounds and listened repeatedly to a taped reading of the diaries of Arthur Bremer. De Niro acknowledged that while working on Bickle's accent, on his days off from shooting 1900, he would go to an army base in Northern Italy and tape-record the accents of some of the locals there as he felt they would be good for Travis's character.

When Bickle determines to assassinate Senator Palantine, he cuts his hair into a Mohawk. This detail was suggested by actor Victor Magnotta, a friend of Scorsese's who had a small role as a Secret Service agent and who had served in Vietnam. Scorsese later noted, "Magnotta had talked about certain types of soldiers going into the jungle. They cut their hair in a certain way; looked like a Mohawk... and you knew that was a special situation, a commando kind of situation, and people gave them wide berths ... we thought it was a good idea."

Jodie Foster was far from being the first choice to play Iris. Scorsese considered other actresses to play that role, including Melanie Griffith, Linda Blair, Bo Derek, Carrie Fisher and Geena Davis. A newcomer, Mariel Hemingway, auditioned for the role of Iris, but turned it down due to pressure from her family. After the other actresses turned down the role, Foster, a very popular child star, was chosen by Scorsese to play Iris. The actress who played Iris's friend in the film was a working prostitute studied by Foster to help create her role.

In the original draft Schrader had written the role of Sport (Harvey Keitel) as a black man. There were also additions of other negative black roles. Scorsese believed that this would give the film an overly racist subtext so they were changed to white roles, although the film implies that Travis himself is a racist. Among other things, cab drivers refer to blacks with various racial epithets, the black neighborhood of Harlem is referred to as Mau Mau land, and Travis exchanges hostile eye-contact with several black characters. Schrader's original screenplay also set the action in Los Angelesmarker; it was moved to New York City because taxis were much more prevalent there than L.A. during the 1970s.

The cynical cab driver Narasingh (played by Soumitra Chatterjee) in Satyajit Ray's Abhijan is seen as a prototype for the character of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Scorsese himself has credited Satyajit Ray as a major influence on his work.

Travis Bickle in other media

Taxi Driver, American Gigolo, Light Sleeper, and The Walker make up a series referred to variously as the "Man in a Room" or "Night Worker" movies. Screenwriter Paul Schrader (who directed the other three films) has stated that he considers the central characters of the four films to be one character, who has changed as he has gotten older.

The song "Red Angel Dragnet" from the 1982 album "Combat Rock" by The Clash features lines lifted directly from the movie and includes many references to a "Travis" and various events depicted in the film.

The 2006 comedy film Windy City Heat has a minor character named Travis Bickle.

The 2003 punk album Indestructible by Rancid features a song entitled "Travis Bickle." The lyrics of the song are a summation of Bickle's observations throughout the movie, and his resulting experiences: "All the prostitutes who run around midnight/And the junkies and hypes are all trying to get tight/They’re all trying to find some hope for sale/But there’s no way outta this hell."

The song "Gunz 'n' Money" by hip-hop duo The Marginal Prophets includes the line, "I wanna see blood trickle / Started driving a taxi, changed my name to Travis Bickle".

Music

Robert Barnett of MusicWeb International has said that the film score by Bernard Herrmann contrasts deep, sleazy noises representing the "scum" that Travis sees all over the city with the saxophone, a musical counterpart of Travis, creating a mellifluously disenchanted troubadour. Barnett also observes that the opposing noises in the soundtrack - gritty little harp figures - are as hard as shards of steel as well as a jazz drum-kit placing the drama in the city – indicative of loneliness while surrounded by people. Deep brass and woodwind are also evident. Barnett heard in the drumbeat a wild-eyed martial air charting the pressure on Bickle, who is increasingly oppressed by the corruption around him, and that the harp, drum and saxophone play extremely significant roles in all this music.

The soundtrack for the film, released in 1998, includes notes by director Martin Scorsese, as well as full documentation for the tracks linking them in great detail to individual takes.

Track 12, "Diary of a Taxi Driver", features Herrmann's music with Robert de Niro's voiceover taken direct from the soundtrack.

Also featured in the film is Jackson Browne's "Late for the Sky", appearing in a scene as Travis watches a televised dance, envious of the happy and intimate couples.

Track listing

Some of the tracks feature relatively long titles, representative of the fact that similar reprises are heard in many scenes.

  1. Main Title
  2. Thank God for the Rain
  3. Cleaning the Cab
  4. I Still Can't Sleep/They Cannot Touch Her (Betsy's Theme)
  5. Phone Call/I Realise how much She is Like the Others/A Strange Customer/Watching Palantine on TV/You're Gonna Die in Hell/Betsy's Theme/Hitting the Girl
  6. The .44 Magnum is a Monster
  7. Getting into Shape/Listen you Screwheads/Gun Play/Dear Father & Mother/The Card/Soap Opera
  8. Sport and Iris
  9. The $20 Bill/Target Practice
  10. Assassination Attempt/After the Carnage
  11. A Reluctant Hero/Betsy/End Credits
  12. Diary of a Taxi Driver
  13. God's Lonely Man
  14. Theme from Taxi Driver
  15. I Work the Whole City
  16. Betsy in a White Dress
  17. The Days do not End
  18. Theme from Taxi Driver (reprise)


Controversies

Jodie Foster as "Iris"
The climactic shoot-out was intensely graphic. To attain an "R" rating, Scorsese had the colors desaturated, making the brightly-colored blood less prominent. In later interviews, Scorsese commented that he was actually pleased by the color change and he considered it an improvement over the originally filmed scene, which has been lost. However, in the special edition DVD, Michael Chapman, the film's cinematographer, regrets the decision and the fact that no print with the unmuted colors exists any more, as the originals had long-since deteriorated.

Some critics expressed concern over 13 year old Jodie Foster's presence during the climactic shoot-out. However, Foster stated that she was present during the setup and staging of the special effects used during the scene; the entire process was explained and demonstrated for her, step by step. Rather than being upset or traumatized, Foster said, she was fascinated and entertained by the behind-the-scenes preparation that went into the scene. In addition, before being given the part, Foster was subjected to psychological testing to ensure that she would not be emotionally scarred by her role, in accordance with California Labor Board requirements.

John Hinckley, Jr.

Taxi Driver formed part of the delusional fantasy of John Hinckley, Jr. which triggered his attempted assassinationmarker of President Ronald Reagan in 1981, an act for which he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Hinckley stated that his actions were an attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster, on whom Hinckley was fixated, by mimicking Travis's Mohawked appearance at the Palantine rally. His attorney concluded his defense by playing the movie for the jury.

Interpretations of the ending

Roger Ebert has written of the film's ending:"There has been much discussion about the ending, in which we see newspaper clippings about Travis's 'heroism' of saving Iris, and then Betsy gets into his cab and seems to give him admiration instead of her earlier disgust. Is this a fantasy scene? Did Travis survive the shoot-out? Are we experiencing his dying thoughts? Can the sequence be accepted as literally true? ... I am not sure there can be an answer to these questions. The end sequence plays like music, not drama: It completes the story on an emotional, not a literal, level. We end not on carnage but on redemption, which is the goal of so many of Scorsese's characters."James Berardinelli, in his review of the film, argues against the dream or fantasy interpretation, stating:
"Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader append the perfect conclusion to Taxi Driver.
Steeped in irony, the five-minute epilogue underscores the vagaries of fate.
The media builds Bickle into a hero, when, had he been a little quicker drawing his gun against Senator Palantine, he would have been revealed as an assassin.
As the film closes, the misanthrope has been embraced as the model citizen—someone who takes on pimps, drug dealers, and mobsters to save one little girl."


On the Laserdisc audio commentary, Scorsese acknowledged several critics' interpretation on the film's ending being Bickle's dying dream. However, he admitted that the last scene of Bickle glancing at an unseen object implies that he might fall into rage and recklessness in the future, and he is like "a ticking time bomb." Writer Paul Schrader confirms this in his commentary on the 30th anniversary DVD, stating that Travis "is not cured by the movie's end," and that, "he's not going to be a hero next time."

Response

Taxi Driver was a financial success earning $28,262,574 in the United States. and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture (but lost to Rocky) and received the Palme d'Or, at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. It has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

The film was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best films of all time.

As of July 2009, Rotten Tomatoes reported that 98% of critics gave positive reviews.

The July/August 2009 issue of Film Comment magazine polled several critics on the best films to ever win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker. Taxi Driver placed first above films such as Il Gattopardo, Viridiana, Blow-Up, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, La Dolce Vita.

Sequel

The rumors began to circulate in late January 2005 when a sequel was announced by Robert De Niro and director Martin Scorsese. At a New York 25th anniversary screening of Raging Bull, Robert De Niro talked about a story in development of an older Travis Bickle. Also in 2000 Robert De Niro mentioned some interest in bringing back the character of Travis Bickle in the Actor's Studio with its host James Lipton.

There was also an aborted attempt by Majesco Entertainment and developer Papaya Studio to make a Taxi Driver video game - a sequel of sorts to the movie, which debuted at the 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo - but it fell flat when the game was canceled in the fall of 2005.

American Film Institute recognition

American Film Institute recognition

Awards

Wins

Nominations

See also



Notes

  1. Making "Taxi Driver" DVD Documentary
  2. "Scorsese on Scorsese" edited by David Thompson and Ian Christie. 057114103X: series London; Boston: Faber and Faber, 1989. Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.3.S39 A3 1989
  3. Schrader, Paul (1990), Taxi Driver London: Faber and Faber Limited, ISBN 0571144640
  4. "Travis gave punks a hair of aggression." The Toronto Star 12 Feb. 2005: H02
  5. http://qanda.encyclopedia.com/question/did-robert-de-niro-prepare-his-role-taxi-driver-383603.html
  6. Interview with Paul Schrader, BBC Radio 4's Film Programme, 10 August 2007
  7. Filmmaker Magazine, Fall 1992
  8. Taxi Driver: Music composed by Bernard Hermann musicweb-international.com. Retrieved 15 March 2009.
  9. "a stupid orgy of violence".
  10. Accessed 2007-09-16.
  11. Foster interview by Boze Hadleigh (March/June 1992)
  12. Taxi Driver: Its Influence on John Hinckley, Jr.
  13. Taxi Driver by Denise Noe
  14. The John Hinckley Trial & Its Effect on the Insanity Defense by Kimberly Collins, Gabe Hinkebein, and Staci Schorgl
  15. Verdict and Uproar by Denise Noe
  16. Ebert's Review of Taxi Driver Rogerebert.com 1 January 2004. Retrieved 10 March 2007.
  17. ReelViews Movie Review
  18. Taxi Driver Laserdisc Commentary
  19. Taxi Driver Audio Commentary with Paul Schrader
  20. Box Office Mojo - Taxi Driver Retrieved 31 March 2007
  21. Cannes Film Festival Retrieved 10 March 2007.
  22. Films Selected to The National Film Registry, Library of Congress, 1989–2005 Retrieved 10 March 2007.
  23. The Complete List - ALL-TIME 100 Movies - TIME Magazine
  24. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/taxi_driver/ Taxi Driver, Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 4 October 2008
  25. [1]
  26. http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2005/feb/02/news.xanbrooks
  27. http://www.geocities.com/faustus_08520/taxidriver2.html


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