Cling-Film - The Uber-Cool Magic Of Taxi Driver
Are you talking to me? Are you talking to me?
We are talking to you, and we've brought you another edition of Cling-Film.
The concept of getting into a taxi has changed so much in the last few years. It used to be that you’d hail one down, hop in, tell the driver your destination and pay your fare with real money that you’d be giving to a real person. Now you open an app on your phone. It takes the money directly from your bank account. Stopping the need for human interaction, two words that Robert De Niro’s character Travis Bickle was desperate for in Martin Scorsese’s 1976 masterpiece- Taxi Driver.
If you haven’t watched Taxi Driver yet, then you really should dedicate some time to it. It will make you think about the mental health of your next taxi driver a lot more. You'll be reaching for that tip button before you even reach that final destination.
This classic film portrays the story of loneliness through macho Travis, who is dealing with a big identity crisis. Ultimately, this leads him to act out the dark fantasies that dwell in his mind.
It just so happens on 8 February 2021, Taxi Driver will be celebrating its 45th birthday, and we plan to celebrate it. Get yourself nice and comfortable in the back seat as we take you on a short but satisfying journey through 1970s New York. A place where “all the animals come out at night” and, according to Travis, a city that needs deep cleansing of the wanton behaviour that is deeply rooted at the Big Apple’s core.
Here is why we want to cling onto Taxi Driver...
Moments we want to cling on to...
Gun buying scene
If there was ever a scene to highlight America’s gun issue, then this is it -
watching Travis buy all these handguns is very unnerving. It makes you realise if you have dollars to spend in America, those guns can be yours. We want you to remember this moment because it's a key part of the story for Taxi Driver. It shows you the start of the path of no return for the main protagonist, Travis Bickle.
From the very start of this scene, it has a callous nature surrounding it. You begin to see how emotionless Travis can be. Yet, it’s an absolutely gorgeous scene created by Scorsese that blends perfectly into the storyline.
In this scene, we are introduced to Easy Andy, who is played fantastically by a non-actor and friend of Scorsese, Steven Prince. In fact, this was Steven’s job in real life. He was a real-life hustler, and that’s why it was such an easy role for him to play.
Not many people can dwarf Robert De Niro as an actor, but Easy Andy manages to make it look...should we say easy.
Would you buy from Easy Andy with a sale pitch like this? Because we have already given him our money.
The score in itself isn’t a scene, but it appears in so many that it just has to be included. For me, it's one of the most iconic scores a movie has ever had, and it was all brought to life by the late brilliant Bernard Herrmann.
The score acts as a supporting character to De Niro, and it follows him around like a bad smell coming from the backseat of his taxi. Herrmann was a legend coming to the end of his career when he made the music for Taxi Driver, and it just so happened to be the last film he ever scored before his death in 1975.
The score captures Travis' mental state to perfection. It’s a type of melancholy tune that starts off sounding pretty normal, the sort of music you’d hear when you’re put on hold. However, it slowly becomes more frustrating to listen to as the film goes on. As Travis' mental state gets worse, the music almost seems to get more intense to listen to.
This is a piece of film history. Without it, Taxi Driver would be missing a passenger on its ride to iconic status.
The Hotel Shootout Scene
If you think we were going to miss out the scene that made Taxi Driver, then you're very much mistaken. The hotel shootout scene is one of the reasons this film was considered to be so controversial for its time, and even by today’s standards, it’s quite graphic.
So how does it all come about? Well, at first, Travis is hellbent on assassinating Senator Charles Palantine (the potential next president of the United States). The crazy cabbie shows up to one of his rallies sporting the infamous mohawk.
Travis wants to kill him to show his rejection of the system he sees as corrupt and uncaring. It doesn’t go to plan. This annoys Travis because this was his chance to be seen by the world. He missed his shot. In fact, he didn’t even get to reveal a gun before he was chased away by secret service agents and forced to abandon his vigilante mission
But don’t worry because he has another one lined up. This time it’s saving 12-year-old New York prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster) from the clutches of her pimp.
Does he do it? Yes, yes, he does, and then some. The mangoes loco crazy on a shooting spree, killing three of Iris’ captors before attempting to commit suicide but runs out of bullets. Instead, he is intercepted by the police, where the film reaches its final curtain call.
It's no exaggeration to say that what comes next is one of the most infamous endings in all of cinema history.
Travis is in his yellow cab when he unexpectedly picks up Betsy, his ex-love interest, and drives her home. Betsy is a lot warmer to Travis and almost wants to engage with him on a much more forward level. Yet, Travis is refusing to accept her advances. He drops her off, refuses to let her pay, and drives off into the New York City abyss.
Many people believe this to be a dream sequence, and they think Travis died in the hotel, and this was a man’s last dying thought. This point is furthered by the strange change of camera angle at the end scene, where Travis becomes jolted by something in the car mirror.
Who knows if it was real, but one thing we know for sure is that this scene right here is being clung onto until the end of time.
Characters we want to cling on to…
The man, the myth, the maniac who is Travis Bickle. The insomniac taxi driver hellbent on seeking revenge on the system he believes has done him so much wrong. Robert De Niro made cinematic history in playing the character and is worthy of all the praise - without his involvement, then perhaps Taxi Driver wouldn’t have been as iconic as it was.
This was a man who actually went ahead and got himself an official cab license for the movie. If that isn’t commitment to the role, then I don’t know what is. When he was doing research for the role De Niro secured a cab driver’s license and worked 12-hour days as a cabby for about a month. He would pick up passengers from across New York City, and one of these encounters led to his fare recognizing him and telling him this, “Well, that’s acting. One year the Oscar, the next you’re driving a cab!”
You can’t have a taxi without wheels, and you can’t have a Taxi Driver without De Niro, and yes, I am talking to you.
When you think about Taxi Driver, you don’t tend to think about Peter Boyle, who played the relatively small role of Wizard. The veteran cabbie who has been on the driving scene for decades.
However, for me, Wizard is one of the most important characters of the whole film because he is the voice of morality for Travis. Someone who had the power to potentially stop violent crimes from happening.
Travis comes to Wizard for guidance, and the old school cabbie does his best to give him some friendly advice:
“Look at it this way. A man takes a job, you know? And that job - I mean, like that - That becomes what he is. You know, like - You do a thing and that's what you are. Like I've been a cabbie for thirteen years. Ten years at night. I still don't own my own cab. You know why? Because I don't want to. That must be what I want. To be on the night shift drivin' somebody else's cab. You understand? I mean, you become - You get a job, you become the job. One guy lives in Brooklyn. One guy lives in Sutton Place. You got a lawyer. Another guy's a doctor. Another guy dies. Another guy gets well. People are born, y'know? I envy you, your youth. Go on, get laid, get drunk. Do anything. You got no choice, anyway. I mean, we're all f****d. More or less, ya know.”
If only Travis would’ve listened or built a better friendship with Wizard, then maybe the violent tendencies might have gone away. Then again, if that did happen, this would literally be a film about taxi drivers, and we wouldn't get to explore the dark and twisted logic of Travis Bickle.
Jodie Foster, as the infamous Iris is a moment that shook the industry to its core. At the time, she was just 12-years-old when she was cast to play Iris, a prostitute in the mean streets of 1970’s New York.
Travis becomes obsessed with saving Iris and makes it his obligation to give this girl her childhood back. Whatever twisted logic he’s using to warrant it, you can’t deny that you wanted to see her freed by the end of the film.
Scorsese had discomfort in directing her in such a controversial role but went ahead with it. Foster put in a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination that got the whole world of cinema talking. Travis had an obsession with saving Iris, and he made it his task in life to get the job done, but what happens when the plot of a blockbuster becomes your real life? This is what happened for Jodie Foster, who developed a stalker due to her role in Taxi Driver.
John Hinckley Jr developed a fixation with Foster very similar to how Travis did in the film and even moved near her university in order to stalk her and make an impression. He attempted an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981 because he thought this would get Foster’s attention and make her see him as an equal.
Spoiler alert, it didn’t, but it did wound police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy. It also critically wounded Press Secretary James Bready, who was disabled in the shooting and would go on to die of his injuries in 2014.
So, did Hinckley get jail or worse? Well, he was given treatment at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. He is now a free man who must follow certain conditions, which include no contact with Foster and a ban on watching any violent movies. Hinckley, who is now 65-years-old is no longer considered a threat to himself or others. Do you believe this? Or is he just biding his time?
A telling of one man’s loneliness who strives for human contact, a story of a man who turns to violence to find some retribution for what he deems unfair treatment. Travis Bickle isn’t a hero, he isn’t a villain, he is just another example of another American who had to face the repercussions of the Vietnam War.
He couldn't put down the gun, and his yellow sanctuary wasn't enough to save him.
Watch Taxi Driver now and remind yourself that you never really know what is going through another person’s mind - Tip your Uber drivers...or else.
If you enjoyed what you read, and want to support Stephen and our commitment to fresh content, support Stephen with a cuppa over
Subscribe here to Fresh Take for more opinions on the world of film and television.
And subscribe to our podcast Well Good Movies, for more film and TV fun!