Sunday, March 20, 2005
'Well I'm the only one here'
TAXI DRIVER (1976) With Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel and Peter Boyle. Writted by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorsese.
I saw 'Taxi Driver' for the first time five or six years ago, and watching it again today reminded me of how mobile Scorsese's camera is, and how many of the shots I recalled and anticipated the moment before they happened. The look and rhythm of the film is so memorable it was like its motions were grafted onto my memory. The movie meant nothing to me when I first saw it, but it rang true this time, because the spector of loneliness grows with age. 'Taxi Driver' is first about isolation (mostly self-imposed), and only incidentally is it about the violence and rage that blooms because of it.
That isolation is manifested in the final shot of the movie, the only shot I truly recalled vividly, a shot that was already on my mind before the second viewing started to jog my memory of the others. I'm confidant I know what it means, though after watching the useful making-of documentary on the DVD I'm not so sure. How literal is it? I read into it the first time, and I read into it the second time. I base conclusions on instinct, so I think my interpretations of the film's end sequence is more metaphorical and tragic than the filmmakers might've intended it to be.
My favorite moment, though, is when De Niro, as Travis Bickle, is on a pay phone trying to patch up things with the love interest played by Cybill Shepherd. We only hear his side of the conversation, and things obviously aren't going well, and he's sounding very pathetic and strange. And the camera, which has held on him at a medium shot, slowly drifts to the right and out into the hallway, where it comes to rest. Bickle is still talking and we hear him, but we see only the empty hall. It's like the camera was embarrassed for him and turned away in shame.
'Taxi Driver' is one of those movies that vibrates with not only the passion and abandon of a young filmmaker, but also with the synergy of the team that was making it. It's well-oiled yet raw, calculated yet exciting. Everyone on the crew was making the same movie, and that's how good movies are made. In a De Niro/Pacino face-off, I'd always chosen Pacino, who always seemed more the chameleon to me. But De Niro's work here is perfect, and he disappears. Listen to his voice, his cadence. It's the key to the character and it works. It also works because of Bernard Herrmann, veteran score composer of Hitchcock pictures, who created one of the best and most haunting scores -- a lonely, romantic sax penetrating the New York nights of 'Taxi Driver,' and those calamitous, desperate percussions over the climactic sequence. Hours after Herrmann finished recording the score in December 1975, he died, at 64, and at the top of his career.
A couple years back, there was talk that De Niro and Scorsese were throwing around the idea of a sequel, or a "revisitation." I view this as a desperate attempt to reclaim the verve of young filmmaking, and filmmaking of the '70s. Look at De Niro now -- seemingly resigned to slummy parts in 'Analyze This/That' and 'Meet the Parents/Fockers.' Scorsese isn't fairing much better; 'Gangs of New York' was a bewildering wreck, and 'The Aviator,' while many times better, seemed a conformity. Yes, they are both 30 years older and the same type of filmmaking should not be expected of either. But the same quality should be.