“…Someday a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets.”-The Clash
To our Intestinal Fortitude Reading Audience: In the aftermath of violence, the distinction between hero and villain is sometimes a matter of interpretation or misinterpretation of facts. Taxi Driver suggests that tragic errors can be made.
Forty years ago this month, a film premiered that would rattle society’s brain, inspire up and coming filmmakers, and ferment in the cinema psyche more potent like a fine wine with each year passing. Shocking subject matter, memorable dialogue, lathered in stark realism and enough truth to awaken the masses to the downfall of American society post Nixon, Vietnam, and dismantling the mainstream after WWII. The film has been cited as one of the best and most important, push the boundaries of content and as it addresses the real issues at hand that are still relevant today…humans are be volatile creatures. “Are you talking to me?” Yes, I’m talking to you! Grab your license, aviators, and your pocket rocket, we are going to take a ride through the crime infested streets with the award winning, Taxi Driver (1976).
Welcome to crazy New York City in the 70s. The mean streets run rampant with sex, violence, drug fiends, and other seedy characters that disease this desirable tourist locale. Meet our quintessential antihero, Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro of Goodfellas (1990), our lonely, disillusioned Vietnam Vet as he longs to find his meaning in life as he struggles to survive the tawdry elements of the Big Apple. Travis battles a severe case of insomnia which he self-medicates with long hours as a graveyard shift taxi driver when he isn’t keeping a diary of the despair his life has become. Travis is an astute observer of the filth in the human condition that surrounds him every waking moment. Travis, out of his isolated despair, spends a lot of free time in sticky floored porn theaters.
With a longing for companionship and normalcy, Travis sets his sights on Betsy, Cybill Shepherd of The Last Picture Show (1971), a campaign volunteer for Senator and presidential candidate Charles Palantine, Leonard Harris of Hero at Large (1980). Travis, always the outsider of every situation in his life, watches Betsy through a window at the campaign office, where he becomes enamored with the blonde. Travis volunteers at the campaign office in order to get close to Betsy, before bombing on the first and only date due to his classlessness by taking her to a see a skin flick. All bets are off with Betsy and Travis responds in heated aggression by verbally trashing her in the workplace in front of surprised coworkers. Needless to say, he was asked to leave. When one door closes, another opens…
Travis grows more and more restless with himself, life, and the decay of morality that infects the troubled nocturnal driver during his descent of paranoiac madness. Travis finds solace veteran cabbie, Wizard, Peter Boyle of Joe (1970), and confides his thoughts, which are beginning to turn violent, but Wizard assures him that he will be fine, leaving Travis to return to his own destructive path.
Travis is disgusted by the sleaze, dysfunction, and prostitution that he witnesses throughout the city, and attempts to find an outlet for his frustrations by beginning a program of intense physical regimen supplemented with innovative weapons training after purchasing some pistols from “Easy Andy,” Steven Prince of American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince (1978). With Travis honing his survival skills and becoming a pseudo Guardian Angel (a few years began their chapters in US cities), he hits the ground running and gunning for criminals in the neighborhood, like a Boondock Saint of sorts.
Travis quickly adopts a mission to save a teenage prostitute Iris, Jodie Foster of The Silence of the Lambs (1991) from the control of her brash pimp, “Sport,” Harvey Keitel of Reservoir Dogs (1992). Travis holds an intervention of sorts in an attempt to dissuade Iris, our damsel in distress, from continuing such a life of ill repute, but like most teenagers, the advice from an adult with more life experiences under his belt falls on deaf ears. The highly motivated Travis who in turn responds out of his angst due to Iris’s inability to rescind her life of wanton ways, shaves his hair donning a legendary Mohawk, grabs his peacemakers and hits the streets to seek bloody redemption to save the innocent. Will Travis rid NYC and the existence of the evil that men do? Will Travis find a light from above as he drives through the steam of the Haddesque Manhattan streets? Will Travis bring the end of the Sodom & Gomorrah existence of sleaze on the streets? Hail down a copy of Taxi Driver right now to find out.
Taxi Driver was directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese of Goodfellas (1990), straight off the success from his earlier features, Mean Streets (1973) and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974). Taxi Driver is one of Scorsese’s most nitty gritty NY street pieces which has inspired filmmakers (Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino for starters) internationally and cited time and time again since its release in modern popular culture. Taxi Driver was a box office success bringing in close to $30 million from a budget of approximately $1 million, though its violence did concern many mother hen conservative/censorship groups.
Taxi Driver was scribed by award winning screenwriter, Paul Schrader of Raging Bull (1980), based loosely on the shooting of politician George Wallace in 1972 by the delusional fame seeking Arthur Bremer and also had become a favorite source of inspiration of John Hinckley Jr, the would-be assassin of Ronald Reagan in 1981. Elements of political assassination our on full display in Taxi Driver when Travis is chased away, becoming a person of interest by Secret Service after arousing suspicions of his intent at a Palantine political rally. Bickle’s determination to get close to the presidential candidate is rehashed years later by Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone (1983) and John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire (1993).
Taxi Driver has been rumored over the years teasing of a possible sequel, prequel, remake (in 3D), and TV movie adaptation. Thank God, none of these concepts have ever seen the light of day. Leave the sole strength of the film alone, it’s it soul. It should stay isolated, alone in all of it singular grandeur. Its honesty and brute force were born out of the decline of compassion and the rise of aggression in our neighborhoods.
Though Bickle finds himself in pickle when he loses it and takes matters in his own hands, he is a walking contradiction of sorts and the viewer can relate. Vigilantism and the concept of “going postal” intermingle with each other seamlessly in Taxi Driver just as Death Wish (1974) spoke truly to the hearts of innocent citizens making right in a world that is definitely harsh and wrong. Taxi Driver can be looked upon as the media precursor to the real life vigilante, Bernhard Goetz when he greased some aggressors on a NY subway in the 1980s. The 70s and 80s were a time of heated violence in our inner cities, with threats around every street corner (The Son of Sam), which unfortunately birthed the current levels of aggression felt today in our urban terrain. A concrete jungle indeed.
We all have good days, bad days. Everyone has a breaking point. Bottling up the peeves without a healthy release is what sets most people off, not the peeve itself. The lack of release is a killer. With that being said, we all have our own values and I hate to say it, we are at times, hypocrites to the same belief system that we claim to hold dear. As Kris Kristofferson put it, “He’s a prophet and a pusher, partly truth, partly fiction-a walking contradiction.” Next time life takes you for a ride, slow down and enjoy it with Taxi Driver. It’s a fair fare to pay.
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- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
- Twitter Rick Baldwin @RickBaldwin79 and email@example.com