Movie "Taxi Driver" (1976)

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    Taxi Driver — Facts

    1976

    Taxi Driver is a 1976 American film directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Paul Schrader, and starring Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, Leonard Harris, and Albert Brooks. Set in a decaying and morally bankrupt New York City following the Vietnam War, the film follows Travis Bickle (De Niro), a taxi driver and veteran, and his deteriorating mental state as he works nights in the city.

    With The Wrong Man (1956) and A Bigger Splash (1973) as inspiration, Scorsese wanted the film to feel like a dream to audiences. With cinematographer Michael Chapman, filming began in the summer of 1975 in New York City, with actors taking pay cuts to ensure that the project could be completed on a low budget of $1.9 million. Production concluded that same year, with a score being composed by Bernard Herrmann in his final score, which he finished just several hours before his death; the film is dedicated to him.

    The film was theatrically released by Columbia Pictures on February 7, 1976, where it was a critical and commercial success, despite generating controversy for its graphic violence at the climactic ending, and casting of then 12-year-old Foster in the role of a child prostitute. The film received numerous accolades including the 1976 Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or, and four nominations at the 49th Academy Awards, including for Best Picture, Best Actor (for De Niro), and Best Supporting Actress (for Foster).

    Although Taxi Driver generated further controversy for its role in John Hinckley Jr.'s motive to attempt to assassinate then-President Ronald Reagan, the film has remained popular, culturally significant and inspirational of its time. In 2012, Sight & Sound named it the 31st-best film ever in its decennial critics' poll, ranked with The Godfather Part II, and the fifth-greatest film of all time on its directors' poll. In 1994, the film was considered "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant by the US Library of Congress, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

    Production

    Development

    According to director Martin Scorsese, it was Brian De Palma who introduced him to Paul Schrader. Taxi Driver arose from Scorsese feeling that movies are like dreams or drug-induced reveries; he attempted to inculcate within the viewer the feeling of being in a limbo state between sleeping and waking. The director also cites Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1956) and Jack Hazan's A Bigger Splash (1973) as inspirations for his camerawork in the movie. In writing the script, Schrader was inspired by the diaries of Arthur Bremer (who shot presidential candidate George Wallace in 1972). He was also inspired by the Harry Chapin song Taxi, about an old girlfriend getting into a cab. For the ending of the story, when Bickle becomes a media hero, Schrader was inspired by Squeaky Fromme's attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford, which resulted in her being on the cover of Newsweek.

    Schrader also used himself as inspiration; in a 1981 interview with Tom Snyder on The Tomorrow Show, he related his experience living in New York City while battling chronic insomnia, which led him to frequent pornographic bookstores and theaters because they remained open all night. Following a divorce and a breakup with a live-in girlfriend, he spent a few weeks living in his car. After visiting a hospital for a stomach ulcer, Schrader wrote the screenplay for Taxi Driver in "under a fortnight," he states "The first draft was maybe 60 pages, and I started the next draft immediately, and it took less than two weeks." Schrader recalls that "I realized I hadn't spoken to anyone in weeks [...] that was when the metaphor of the taxi occurred to me. That is what I was: this person in an iron box, a coffin, floating round the city, but seemingly alone." Schrader decided to make Bickle 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.

    In Scorsese on Scorsese, Scorsese mentions the religious symbolism in the story, comparing Bickle to a saint who wants to cleanse or purge both his mind and his body of weakness. Bickle attempts to kill himself near the end of the movie as a tribute to the samurai's "death with honor" principle. Dustin Hoffman was offered the role of Travis Bickle but turned it down because he thought that Scorsese was "crazy".

    Pre-production

    While preparing for his role as Bickle, De Niro was filming Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 in Italy. According to Boyle, he would "finish shooting on a Friday in Rome... get on a plane... [and] fly to New York." De Niro obtained a taxi driver's license, and when on break would pick up a taxi and drive around New York for a couple of weeks, before returning to Rome to resume filming 1900. De Niro apparently lost 16 kg and listened repeatedly to a taped reading of the diaries of criminal Arthur Bremer. When he had time off from shooting 1900, De Niro visited an army base in Northern Italy and tape-recorded soldiers from the Midwestern United States, whose accents he thought might be appropriate for Travis's character.

    Scorsese brought in the film title designer Dan Perri to design the title sequence for Taxi Driver. Perri had been Scorsese's original choice to design the titles for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore in 1974, but Warner Bros would not allow him to hire an unknown designer. By the time Taxi Driver was going into production, Perri had established his reputation with his work on The Exorcist, and Scorsese was now able to hire him. Perri created the opening titles for Taxi Driver using second unit footage which he color-treated through a process of film copying and slit-scan, resulting in a highly stylised graphic sequence that evoked the "underbelly" of New York City through lurid colors, glowing neon signs, distorted nocturnal images, and deep black levels. Perri went on to design opening titles for a number of major films after this including Star Wars (1977) and Raging Bull (1980).

    Filming

    On a low budget of $1.9 million, various actors took pay cuts to create the project. De Niro and Cybill Shepherd each received only $35,000 to make the film, and Scorsese was given $65,000. Overall, $200,000 of the budget was given to performers in the film.

    Taxi Driver was shot during a New York City summer heat wave and sanitation strike in 1975. The film came into conflict with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for its violence. Scorsese de-saturated the color in the final shootout, and the film got an R rating. To achieve the atmospheric scenes in Bickle's taxi, the sound men would get in the trunk and Scorsese and his cinematographer, Michael Chapman, would ensconce themselves on the back seat floor and use available light to shoot. Chapman admitted the filming style was greatly influenced by New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and his cinematographer Raoul Coutard due to the fact the crew did not have the time nor the money to do "traditional things." When Bickle decides to assassinate Senator Palantine, he cuts his hair into a mohawk. This detail was suggested by actor Victor Magnotta, a friend of Scorsese, who had a small role as a Secret Service agent and who had served in Vietnam. Scorsese later noted: "He told us that, in Saigon, if you saw a guy with his head shaved—like a little Mohawk—that usually meant that those people were ready to go into a certain Special Forces situation. You didn't even go near them. They were ready to kill."

    Filming took place on New York City's West Side, at a time when the city was on the brink of bankruptcy. According to producer Michael Phillips, "the whole West Side was bombed out. There really were row after row of condemned buildings and that's what we used to build our sets [...] we didn't know we were documenting what looked like the dying gasp of New York." The tracking shot over the shootout scene, filmed in an actual apartment, took three months of preparation; the production team had to cut through the ceiling to shoot it.

    Music

    The music by Bernard Herrmann was his final score before his death on December 24, 1975, and the film is dedicated to his memory. Scorsese, a long-time admirer of Herrmann, had particularly wanted him to compose the score; Herrmann was his "first and only choice". Scorsese considered Herrmann's score of great importance to the success of the film: "It supplied the psychological basis throughout." The album The Silver Tongued Devil and I from Kris Kristofferson was used in the film, following Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) where Kristofferson played a supporting role.

    Reception

    Box office

    The film opened at the Coronet Theater in New York City and grossed a house record $68,000 in its first week. It went on to gross $28.3 million in the United States, making it the 17th-highest-grossing film of 1976.

    Critical response

    The film received critical acclaim. Roger Ebert instantly praised it as one of the greatest films he had ever seen, claiming:

    Taxi Driver is a hell, from the opening shot of a cab emerging from stygian clouds of steam to the climactic killing scene in which the camera finally looks straight down. Scorsese wanted to look away from Travis's rejection; we almost want to look away from his life. But he's there, all right, and he's suffering.

    On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 96% based on 94 reviews and an average rating of 9.1/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "A must-see film for movie lovers, this Martin Scorsese masterpiece is as hard-hitting as it is compelling, with Robert De Niro at his best." Metacritic gives the film a score of 94 out of 100, based on reviews from 23 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".

    Taxi Driver was ranked by the American Film Institute as the 52nd-greatest American film on its AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) list, and Bickle was voted the 30th-greatest villain in a poll by the same organization. The Village Voice ranked Taxi Driver at number 33 in its Top 250 "Best Films of the Century" list in 1999, based on a poll of critics. Empire also ranked him 18th in its "The 100 Greatest Movie Characters" poll, and the film ranks at No. 17 on the magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.

    Time Out magazine conducted a poll of the 100 greatest movies set in New York City. Taxi Driver topped the list placing at No. 1. Schrader's screenplay for the film was ranked the 43rd-greatest ever written by the Writers Guild of America. By contrast, Leonard Maltin gave a rating of only 2 stars and called the film a "gory, cold-blooded story of a sick man's lurid descent into violence" which was "ugly and unredeeming".

    In 2012, in a Sight & Sound poll, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi selected Taxi Driver as one of his 10 best films of all time.

    American Film Institute

    *AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains – #30 Villain – Travis Bickle *AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes – #10 – "You talkin' to me?" *AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – #22 *AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – #47 *AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #52

    Other Honors

    *National Film Registry – Inducted in 1994 *The film was chosen by Time as one of the 100 best films of all time. *In 2015, Taxi Driver ranked 19th on BBC's "100 Greatest American Films" list, voted on by film critics from around the world.

    Legacy

    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" films. Screenwriter Paul Schrader (who directed the latter three films) has said that he considers the central characters of the four films to be one character, who has changed as he has aged. The film also influenced the Charles Winkler film You Talkin' to Me?

    The 1994 portrayal of psychopath Albie Kinsella by Robert Carlyle in British television series Cracker was in part inspired by Travis Bickle, and Carlyle's performance has frequently been compared to De Niro's as a result.

    In the 2012 film Seven Psychopaths, psychotic Los Angeles actor Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell) believes himself to be the illegitimate son of Travis Bickle.

    The vigilante ending inspired Jacques Audiard for his 2015 Palme d'Or-winning film Dheepan. The French director based the eponymous Tamil Tiger character on the one played by Robert De Niro in order to make him a "real movie hero". The script of Joker by Todd Phillips also draws inspiration from Taxi Driver.

    "You talkin' to me?"

    De Niro's "You talkin' to me?" speech has become a pop culture mainstay. In 2005, it was ranked number 10 on the American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes.

    In the relevant scene, the deranged Bickle is looking into a mirror at himself, imagining a confrontation that would give him a chance to draw his gun:

    "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin' to? You talkin' to me? Well I'm the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you're talking to?"

    While Scorsese said that he drew inspiration from John Huston's 1967 movie Reflections in a Golden Eye in a scene in which Marlon Brando's character is facing the mirror, screenwriter Paul Schrader said De Niro improvised the dialogue and that De Niro's performance was inspired by "an underground New York comedian" he had once seen, possibly including his signature line. Roger Ebert said of the latter part of the phrase "I'm the only one here" that it was "the truest line in the film.... Travis Bickle's desperate need to make some kind of contact somehow—to share or mimic the effortless social interaction he sees all around him, but does not participate in." In his 2009 memoir, saxophonist Clarence Clemons said that De Niro explained the line's origins during production of New York, New York (1977), with the actor seeing Bruce Springsteen say the line onstage at a concert. In the 2000 film The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, De Niro went on to repeat the monologue with some alterations in the role as the character Fearless Leader.

    Home media

    The first 'Collector's Edition' DVD, released in 1999, was packaged as a single-disc edition release. It contained special features, such as behind-the-scenes and several trailers, including one for Taxi Driver.

    In 2006, a 30th-anniversary 2-disc "Collector's Edition" DVD was released. The first disc contains the film itself, two audio commentaries (one by writer Schrader and the other by Professor Robert Kolker), and trailers. This edition also retains some of the special features from the earlier release on the second disc, as well as some newly produced documentary material.

    A Blu-ray was released on April 5, 2011, to commemorate the film's 35th anniversary. It includes the special features from the previous 2-disc collector's edition, plus an audio commentary by Scorsese released in 1991 for the Criterion Collection, previously released on LaserDisc.

    As part of the Blu-ray production, Sony gave the film a full 4K digital restoration, which included scanning and cleaning the original negative (removing emulsion dirt and scratches). Colors were matched to director-approved prints under guidance from Scorsese and director of photography Michael Chapman. An all-new lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack was also made from the original stereo recordings by Scorsese's personal sound team. The restored print premiered in February 2011 at the Berlin Film Festival, and to promote the Blu-ray, Sony also had the print screened at AMC Theatres across the United States on March 19 and 22.

    Plot spoiler

    Travis Bickle is a 26-year-old honorably discharged U.S. Marine and Vietnam War veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and living alone in New York City. Travis takes a job as a night shift taxi driver to cope with his chronic insomnia and loneliness. He frequents the porn theaters on 42nd Street and keeps a diary in which he consciously attempts to include aphorisms, such as "you're only as healthy as you feel." He is disgusted with the crime and urban decay he witnesses, and dreams about ridding "the scum off the streets". Travis becomes infatuated with Betsy, a campaign volunteer for senator and presidential candidate Charles Palantine. Travis enters the campaign office where she works, and asks her out for coffee, to which she agrees. Betsy confesses that she feels a special connection to Travis, and agrees to go on another date with him. During their date Travis takes Betsy to a porn theater, which repulses her and causes her to leave. He attempts to reconcile with her, to no avail. Enraged, he storms into the campaign office where she works, and berates her before he is ordered to leave.

    Experiencing an existential crisis and seeing various counts of prostitution throughout the city, Travis confides in fellow taxi driver nicknamed Wizard about his violent thoughts. However, Wizard dismisses them and assures him that he will be fine. In an attempt to find an outlet for his rage, Travis begins a program of intense physical training. A fellow taxi driver refers him to a black market gun dealer, "Easy" Andy, from whom Travis buys four handguns. At home, Travis practices drawing his weapons, and modifies one to allow him to hide and quickly deploy it from his sleeve. He also begins attending Palantine's rallies to scope out their security. One night, Travis shoots and kills a man attempting to rob a convenience store. On his trips around the city, Travis regularly encounters Iris, a child prostitute whom he fantasizes about saving. Travis solicits her and tries to persuade her to stop prostituting herself. Soon after, Travis cuts his hair into a mohawk and attends a public rally where he plans to assassinate Palantine. However, he is chased away by Secret Service agents who see him unzipping his jacket and putting his hand inside.

    That evening, Travis drives to the House of assignation where Iris works, and shoots her pimp, Sport. He enters the building and engages in a shootout with Sport and one of Iris's clients, a mafioso. Travis is shot several times but manages to kill the two men. He then brawls with the bouncer, whom he manages to stab through the hand with his knife located in his shoe and finish him off with a gunshot to the head. Bloody and injured, Travis slumps on a couch next to a sobbing Iris. He attempts to commit suicide but is out of bullets. As police respond to the scene, a delirious Travis imitates shooting himself in the head using his finger. Travis goes into a coma due to his injuries. He is heralded by the press as a heroic vigilante and is not prosecuted for the murders, also receiving a letter from Iris's father, thanking him. After recovering, Travis returns to work, where he encounters Betsy as a fare; they interact cordially, with Betsy saying she followed his story in the newspapers. Travis drops her at home, and declines to take her money, driving off with a smile.

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