Director: Martin Scorsese
Production: Bill/Phillips Production, an Italo-Judeo Production; Metrocolor, 35mm; running time: 113 minutes. Released 1976 by Columbia Pictures. Filmed 1975 in New York City.
Producers: Michael Phillips and Julia Phillips with Phillip M. Goldfarb; screenplay: Paul Schrader; photography: Michael Chapman; editors: Tom Rolf and Melvin Shapiro; editing supervisor: Marcia Lucas; sound: Roger Pietschman and Tex Rudloff; art director: Charles Rosen; music: Bernard Herrmann; costume designer: Ruth Morley; visual consultant: David Nichols; creative consultant: Sandra Weintraub.
Cast: Robert De Niro ( Travis Bickle ); Cybill Shepherd ( Betsy ); Jodie Foster ( Iris ); Harvey Keitel ( Sport ); Leonard Harris ( Charles Palantine ); Peter Boyle ( Wizard ); Albert Brooks ( Tom ); Murray Mosten ( Time-keeper ); Richard Higgs ( Secret Service Agent ); Vic Aro ( Melio, deli owner ); Steven Prince ( Gun salesman ); Martin Scorsese ( Taxi passenger ); Dianne Abbot ( Concession girl ).
New York Film Critics Award, Best Actor (De Niro), 1976; Palme
d'Or, Cannes Film Festival, 1976.
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* * *
It was during the 1970s—the period of Vietnam and Watergate— that American society appeared in imminent danger of collapse, the crisis in ideological confidence being (quite logically) complemented by the growth of the major radical movements of contemporary culture: feminism, black militancy, gay activism. The confusions and hysteria of the social climate (the historical moment when the dominant ideology of bourgeois patriarchal capitalism and reinforcement under Carter and Reagan) were reflected in the products of Hollywood: one might say that the most interesting and distinguished films of the period were also the most incoherent, centered in the experience of contradiction, disillusionment and desperation. Their failure to develop beyond confusion and contradiction must be attributed to the continuing prohibition (within the American cultural establishment) on imagining any alternative form of cultural organization to patriarchal capitalism.
Taxi Driver is an outstanding product of this cultural situation. Its rich and fascinating incoherence has a number of sources. The collaboration of Scorsese and Schrader involved its own immediate problems. Scorsese's ideological/political position is very difficult to define (perhaps an example of the ability of art to transcend such definitions): he has consistently refused to commit himself to any definable radical position, yet, in their systematic analysis of the untenability of all our social institutions, his films clearly earn the term "radical." Schrader, on the other hand, seems plainly (and quite unashamedly) neo-Fascist: his films (as writer and director) amount to a systematic repudiation of all minority groups and any possible social alternative, in order to re-assert a quasi-mystical sense of male supremacy, heterosexual superiority, and a total spurious "transcendence" (which amounts to little more than one person's right to slaughter other people, on the basis of some supposed achievement of spiritual transfiguration, with no foundation in material reality). One must see the curious paralysis of the film's closing sequence— clearly, on some level, ironic, but with the irony quite unfocused—as the result of this collaboration of partial incompatibles, a view confirmed by Scorsese's King of Comedy (made without Schrader), with its closely parallel but precisely focused ending.
A more profitable tension arises from the film's fascinating fusion of genres: film noir, the western, the horror film. Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro)—who has swiftly become established as a significant figure in American cultural mythology—is on one level the western hero transplanted into the modern urban wilderness: he derives particularly from Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) of The Searchers , and Scorsese and Schrader have made it clear that Ford's film was a conscious influence. But he is also the psychopath/monster of the contemporary horror film: it is perhaps the chief distinction of Taxi Driver to suggest the relationship between these two apparent opposed archetypes and its significance in relation to American ideology. In fact, the film's interest is inseparable from its sense of confusion, its failure to define a coherent attitude towards its protagonist. That confusion must be seen, not merely as the result of a clash of artistic personalities, but as the reflection of a national ideological dilemma.