Cream presents a new regular column that covers the films you ought to have seen by now but haven’t. From cinema’s early days of black-and-white and silent pictures to contemporary, CGI-packed blockbusters, and plenty of low-budget indie flicks in between, this is the column to turn to before ogling your movie streaming options.
First up: Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver.
Text by Rohan Stephens
TAXI DRIVER, 1978. Dir., Martin Scorcese.
What is it?
Taxi Driver, released in 1978, is a film often cited as one of the greatest of all time. Written by Paul Schrader, directed by Martin Scorcese and staring Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Cybil Shepard and a (very) young Jodie Foster, it follows the now infamous character of Travis Bickle, an ex-Marine recently returned from Vietnam, as he tries to navigate reintegrating into civil society that is New York City in the grips of a scorching hot summer and a crippling sanitation strike.
After taking a job as a taxi driver to combat his war-induced insomnia, Travis (De Niro) begins to see the violent, sleazy and disturbed underbelly of the city at night in full force, growing increasingly agitated and eventually violent towards what he sees as the moral corruption of the city and country as a whole. Whilst out driving, he becomes infatuated with the young assistant (Shepard) of a US Senator that he observes from the street and then eventually meets, but cannot seem to convince that she is part of the machine facilitating the dysfunction of the city. He also becomes involved in the attempted rescue of a young prostitute (Foster) from her pimp but fails again, turning to increasingly violent measures to cleanse the city of the filth he sees.
Travis watches people argue, fight, fuck. He watches pimps, prostitutes, drag queens, drug dealers, drug addicts, corrupt businessmen and politicians, violent and jealous lovers all merge into one heaving, sweaty mass until, finally, he cracks.
Why should I have already seen it?
Taxi Driver is considered one of the preeminent films of the ‘second golden era’ of American cinema that, according to film historian Peter Biskind, began with the release of Easy Rider in 1969 and ended with the release of Raging Bull in 1980. This cinematic period was characterised by fractured narratives often with significant twists to plots, deeper and darker character development, and substantial influence from European cinema schools. It was a period of time where epic auteurs such as George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Stephen Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick and William Friedkin were being given full artistic license to create masterpieces such as The Godfather, Jaws, A Clockwork Orange,and The Exorcist, and when actors like Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda, and Candice Bergen were all at the peak of their craft.
One of the film’s biggest controversies at the time, along with it featuring a plan to publicly execute a politician, was the casting of a barely-twelve-year-old Jodie Foster as a prostitute. Foster herself features in the film’s violent and blood-soaked climax, but given its ‘R’ classification in the US, technically would not have been old enough to even attend a screening of it at the time. Further controversy followed in 1981 when John Hinckley Jr., the man responsible for the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, cited the film as the source of his deluded fantasy which saw him shave his head into the same mohawk that Travis sports in the film before his own planned attack and a disturbing (and still ongoing) obsession with Foster.
Taxi Driver embodies the spirit of its time so effectively due to its dark and disturbing narrative and characters. It’s very voyeuristic, with Travis himself spending much of the film just watching the city unfold before him from the front seat of his cab. He watches people argue, fight, fuck. He watches pimps, prostitutes, drag queens, drug dealers, drug addicts, corrupt businessmen and politicians, violent and jealous lovers all merge into one heaving, sweaty mass until, finally, he cracks.
It’s a classic piece of modern cinema that shows the early work of a Hollywood master and, if anything, worth while seeing for the origin of one of the most consistently referenced lines of dialogue in history.
Where do I find it?