Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)

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Cold Bishop
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#51 Post by Cold Bishop » Wed Sep 24, 2008 8:17 pm

Sloper wrote:Basically I would agree with Gregory on the race issue, I don't think those moments of gazing at the black characters are really saying Travis is racist. In fact, surely this was precisely what Scorsese was trying not to say - he made Sport white because it would have made Travis, not the film, seem racist if he had been black. This would have completely alienated Travis's character from the audience, and I think Scorsese wants us to identify with him a lot of the time.

I know it seems lazy of me, but I always feel it's slightly fruitless trying to make sense of this guy. The 'nam veteran stuff is a bit too obvious, and this really doesn't seem like a film about Vietnam, does it? I just don't think we're given enough strong evidence to be able to draw any real conclusions about what drives Travis, what he's disgusted by, what he wants to do.
And that's exactly why I think it was a mistake. It made him easier to swallow for the audience, but its not true to the character. At let us not forget that its not just the pimps and street kids he stares down. He also is completely uncomfortable (even more so than others) around the black Taxi Driver, and its no mistake that he's watching Soul Train later in the film.

And I still think that Bickle's primary problem is sexual. Betsy, Iris, the porno theaters, the loneliness... this guy has not outlet for release.

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Gregory
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#52 Post by Gregory » Wed Sep 24, 2008 8:41 pm

Sloper wrote:I don't think those moments of gazing at the black characters are really saying Travis is racist. In fact, surely this was precisely what Scorsese was trying not to say - he made Sport white because it would have made Travis, not the film, seem racist if he had been black. This would have completely alienated Travis's character from the audience, and I think Scorsese wants us to identify with him a lot of the time.
It was extremely important for Schrader to have the entire film focused on Travis. Every scene was to be connected to Travis's experience and presence. This seems to have been a bit less important to Scorsese. (Schrader has been largely absent from this discussion, but I think his influence is of pretty clear relevance) Normally of course, this kind of heavy exposure to a character's point of view is one of the main ways that films influence (one might even say manipulate) the viewer into identification with one character or set of characters rather than others, but I don't think that's what this film really does, at least not after a point. I think the moment in which the film turns on the audience for whatever sympathy it had for Bickle is when he actually shows up to the Palantine speech with his head shaved, ready to carry out an assassination for reasons few viewers would really understand, let alone identify with. Back in 1976, most viewers had an actual memory of the JFK assassination, or at least that of RFK, and assassinations seemed like a pretty potent cinematic device. The Parallax View and Nashville appeared around the same time. In short, I doubt that many viewers really identified with Bickle by the time of the film's climax, but again it's hard to untangle how Scorsese and Schrader expect people to feel toward Bickle over the course of the whole film.
Last edited by Gregory on Sun Oct 18, 2009 7:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Mr Sausage
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#53 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed Sep 24, 2008 9:57 pm

Gregory wrote:As I understand the term, misanthropy just means a general dislike of humanity, not necessarily every single individual human being.
My understanding of misanthrope is from the OED definition: "A hater of mankind; a person who distrusts and avoids other people." Some good examples: "A misanthrop in such a measure that can praise nothing that is praise worthy" -- D. A. Whole Art Converse 55. "That relatively easy and pleasant living is a desirable end in itself, surely no one but the most spiritually constipated misanthrope would deny" --Jrnl. Amer. Statist. Assoc. 35 29.

Travis does not mistrust or avoid people; he seeks their company, but is rarely successful. Misanthropes desire alienation where Travis reluctantly suffers from it.
Gregory wrote:I think a misanthrope might, out of desperation, place a single person on a pedestal without really understanding him or her, only to turn on the person very suddenly when he or she fails to meet his distorted conception of them.
Misanthrope's are too cynical to have ideals, especially ideal humans, which would be a contradiction in terms.

The better term for the people you're talking about is disillusioned, not misanthropic.

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Gregory
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#54 Post by Gregory » Wed Sep 24, 2008 11:12 pm

For a number of reasons, I don't think the OED definition or the examples invalidate what I said. Another example given is: "It is said that the most religious men are in general the most inflexible misanthropes." Does this statement mean to say that the most religious men hate humankind in general, or that they hate every single human being and avoid all contact with them? I think the latter strains credibility and suggests a definition that is too narrow for the actual world.
I call Bickle a misanthropic character because his hatred of so many types of human beings is too broad to be appropriate to any other term that I can think of at present. Anyone who could look around at all the people of a teeming city at night -- not just criminals but gays, people in drag, the homeless, hippies, people who hang out in seedy bars, and just about anyone else who falls outside of narrow and outdated social norms -- and reduce them all to garbage that needs to be flushed "down the fucking toilet," is what I would call a hater of humanity. I think misanthropic people call pick someone out to place on a pedestal, setting themselves up for inevitable disappointment. I've known a number of people like this. Bickle perhaps wishes he did not have to be so alienated, but he seems to accept it, wallowing in his loneliness and accepting it as part of who he is. It seems to me he rarely seeks the company of other people just for the sake of doing so, except in ways that fit the types of fixations I was talking about before. Perhaps the scene when he confides in one of his fellow cab drivers (the Wizard) could be an exception, but he seems pretty quick to bring this ill-judged attempt to connect to a quick end with an insult to the guy's philosophy of work.
Anyway, perhaps I don't need the claim that he's a misanthrope for my earlier argument to stand. I was just suggesting that his hatreds run so deep that he doesn't seem to give any additional thought to something as superficial as race, although of course this doesn't mean that he entertains any enlightened ideas about equality.

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Sloper
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#55 Post by Sloper » Thu Sep 25, 2008 5:58 am

Gregory, I agree with much of what you say, but maybe I wouldn't quite describe Travis as a misanthrope. Consider Bernard Herrmann's music, especially the main theme - it always puzzled me a bit, as it seemed so incongruous with the film's subject matter, but I think what it really reflects is Travis's romantic, self-romanticising view of the world.

I find it slightly reminiscent of the theme from the previous year's Farewell My Lovely (the Robert Mitchum one, I think David Shire did the music), and it certainly evokes something of the Philip Marlowe quality in Travis. Not that he's a private detective, but he sees himself as a disillusioned innocent surrounded by filth, and like Marlowe he sort of has to do something at the end to clean it all up. You know, 'Down these mean streets a man must go' and all that.
Mr Sausage wrote:Misanthropes desire alienation where Travis reluctantly suffers from it.
I think this is dead right, and again it invites parallels with Jake La Motta and Rupert Pupkin, both of whom want to function better in society, but are basically socially crippled misfits, and so just become very angry and violent instead.

Oversimplifying, but then I'd also agree that:
Gregory wrote:it's hard to untangle how Scorsese and Schrader expect people to feel toward Bickle over the course of the whole film.
Trying to come up with a formula for what makes these characters the way they are will never produce a stable answer. I vary between seeing this as one of Scorsese's best qualities and a sign of incoherence, but it sure makes his films interesting.

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HerrSchreck
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#56 Post by HerrSchreck » Thu Sep 25, 2008 11:42 am

Like any man suffering from this peculiar version of White Boy Syndrome (using Schrader's own description of the people who come up to him nowadays and tell him he's "nailed" their disposition with this movie, that it's a "special breed of white boy" who really experiences a serious registration with the text), it's difficult to pin an all-encompassing adjective to classify Travis-- all the contradictions are going to cause these buzzwords to be doomed to fail-- "misanthrope", "anti-social" "innocent" etc.

One could say TRavis reluctantly suffers from alienation but his alienation is a product of something else in the film which is never really named. SChrader in his interviews fully identifies crucial aspects of this psychological place that many 20-30-something white men wind up within, and the touchstones of it are the reinforcements... the going out to try and find romance, then going ahead and destroying it with improper behavior. The determination to get in good health combined with drug taking, terrible diet, and drinking. The desire to see a clean world and to clean up a deteriorated mind, yet filling the brain with pornography, mindless soap operas. The impulse to be seperate from the criminal world, yet the massive criminal impulse towards guns and pointless violence and murder.

In a nutshell, Travis is two things at the same time, and therefore neither of them: a man who is locked in isolation, loneliness and frustration, who thinks he wants to be normal, to assimilate, to be a person like other people-- yet the next moment is engaging in terribly unhealthy behavior which reinforces his isolation and insures he will stay right where he is.

He is a person addled with bad habits that cripple the quality of his life, and yet-- byproduct of an acute enough perception and perhaps a moral residue left from his upbringing-- recognizes precisely how dislocated his disposition and how poor his habits and therefore carries about within himself a guilty recognition of his sad state... which prompts a motivation forever carried about within him to try and change-- and which forever is crushed by the stronger impulses towards self destruction and bad habits. Which gives rise to immense frustration and destructive impulse-- perhaps even self-hatred.

If there's a psychological term for this disposition-- which is very urban, and very much a byproduct of lower-class economic white boy life-- is unknown to me. I'd simply call him A Mess.

But it's a phase a lot of young men dabble with when they become withdrawn and fall into a period of self-destruction which they're self-conscious enough to see for what it is, yet for a time lack the strength to break... and that lack of strength adds to the condition by giving rise to a frustration, which can then be displaced as the angry young man transfers responsibility for his condition to the world around him.

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Mr Sausage
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#57 Post by Mr Sausage » Thu Sep 25, 2008 12:41 pm

Gregory wrote: Anyone who could look around at all the people of a teeming city at night -- not just criminals but gays, people in drag, the homeless, hippies, people who hang out in seedy bars, and just about anyone else who falls outside of narrow and outdated social norms -- and reduce them all to garbage that needs to be flushed "down the fucking toilet," is what I would call a hater of humanity.
You would call him a hater of humanity, yet you could hardly argue that this specific cross-section of people represents the whole of humanity. Travis does not, if I recall, mention Night Life New York as a microcosm of the world. And he repeatedly attempts friendship and connection in a naive manner with random people around him (whom he hardly idealizes): the candy-counter girl at the porno theater, the cab-man at the beginning. Then there's why he goes to porno movies, which I don't think is necessarily a desire to wallow in filth. He stares at the screen, not with disgust, nor with arousal, but with perplexity, as tho' confused by the on-screen intimacy. I think he goes to porno movies because he's fascinated by the connection suggested by the on-screen physical intimacy, but just can't seem to understand how one achieves it. Granted, it's a poor place to be seeking tips on developing human connections, but this is merely one more instance of his waywardness.
Gregory wrote:Anyway, perhaps I don't need the claim that he's a misanthrope for my earlier argument to stand. I was just suggesting that his hatreds run so deep that he doesn't seem to give any additional thought to something as superficial as race, although of course this doesn't mean that he entertains any enlightened ideas about equality.
I read that and I don't for a moment feel like you're talking about Travis Bickle. You're really going to extremes and overemphasis.
Gregory wrote:Another example given is: "It is said that the most religious men are in general the most inflexible misanthropes." Does this statement mean to say that the most religious men hate humankind in general, or that they hate every single human being and avoid all contact with them? I think the latter strains credibility and suggests a definition that is too narrow for the actual world.
Read Hawthorne's story The Man of Adamant. (As a side note, the sentence's first three words, "It is said," qualifies it too considerably for the argument you're making).

Not that it needs saying, but Herrschreck gets closest to Travis Bickle in his post (let's not forget the name Travis Bickle is itself a deliberate sonaural contradiction).

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Gregory
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#58 Post by Gregory » Thu Sep 25, 2008 4:56 pm

Herr Schreck wrote:In a nutshell, Travis is two things at the same time, and therefore neither of them: a man who is locked in isolation, loneliness and frustration, who thinks he wants to be normal, to assimilate, to be a person like other people-- yet the next moment is engaging in terribly unhealthy behavior which reinforces his isolation and insures he will stay right where he is.
I agree with this. He may think he wants to fit in, but he undermines his own efforts to do so. Perhaps the disagreement here boils down to why he does this.
Anyway, I think I'm hitting and missing variously with my observations so I should probably take some time to ruminate on this. I'm sorry if I've overemphasized or mischaracterized anything. I was sticking to my understanding of Bickle, and I felt like I had a fairly good handle on him, but it's a bit difficult because the film itself is such a muddle with respect to him. I've watched it carefully at least three times, maybe four, which is about the point when I usually feel like I can get a reasonably clear understanding of any worthwhile film. But I think I was failing to bear in mind a few of the little scenes like the one Mr. S. mentions with the candy counter clerk. Of course, Schreck and others in the thread have probably seen the film many, many more than three or four times, but I don't know that doing that would be worthwhile for me. I don't really relate to Schrader at all from what I know of him, although I think Raging Bull is a towering work. For example, I don't understand what's to be gained by emphasizing Bickle's race, as Schreck says he does. His make-up seems like part of the contemporary human condition that could manifest itself in approximately equal form with a random adult in Tokyo or Mexico City just as easily as a young, white New Yorker. In any case, think Taxi Driver is a pretty confused work and it will never be among my favorite Scorseses. I also happen to think that most people who idolize the film do so for extremely poor reasons, but I don't necessarily include anyone in this thread in that at all. I've enjoyed reading all of your insights here.

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swo17
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#59 Post by swo17 » Thu Sep 25, 2008 5:19 pm

Well, one thing is for certain--the banner ads on this board are definitely not racist. I've always wanted to find love with an interracial person. :-s
Gregory wrote:I also happen to think that most people who idolize the film do so for extremely poor reasons, but I don't necessarily include anyone in this thread in that at all.
With all due respect, I take issue with this statement. For one, you don't state what people's reasons are, or why they are extremely poor. You imply that the majority of people who like the film don't know what they're talking about, but then you try to cover yourself with the caveat that those of us intelligent enough to find our way on the internet to this message board must similarly be intelligent enough to like the film for the "right reasons." Do tell, what are these right and wrong reasons to like the film?

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#60 Post by HerrSchreck » Thu Sep 25, 2008 5:27 pm

re gregs post--

Wow I've seen the film at least fifty times all the way thru, no exaggeration, over the past thirty years.

Idolizing a film is one thing, but I don't think there can be a "poor" reason for responding strongly to a film.

Taxi Driver renders with frightening authenticity the sticky, embarassing, unwashed overwrought state that sex-obsessed/tormented, isolated males can descend into when surrounded by masses of people. Like Schrader, the men who can descend into this Overthought state can be simultaneously arrogant, and even extremely talented and/or intelligent in areas.

For some guys I do think that they think that this is a rarfied state that only Men Apart can fall into-- thus they think "getting" the film puts you into some kind of Tortured Soul Club. That only those who See Clearly can be that tormented-- that it's a badge of honor, etc.

But that's a silly residual effect versus the primary experience, which is that Schrader/DeNiro/Scorsese have perfectly articulated something that has not been articulated before or since, which is a very private world which is extremely complicated to render. People see, as Emerson says, themselves in great works of art. They want to lay claim to the film for this reason, and the state they've drawn is so rarified in films, being so personal, painful and even embarassing that no artist before or since has ever gotten close. I think it's an incredible accomplishment.

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Gregory
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#61 Post by Gregory » Thu Sep 25, 2008 5:53 pm

swo17 wrote:You imply that the majority of people who like the film don't know what they're talking about, but then you try to cover yourself with the caveat that those of us intelligent enough to find our way on the internet to this message board must similarly be intelligent enough to like the film for the "right reasons." Do tell, what are these right and wrong reasons to like the film?
Oh, brother... That was not my reasoning at all, and it's unfair of you to assume that. Just because I didn't make a full case for that aside, it doesn't justify you in putting words in my mouth, especially ones as insulting as those. The reason I excluded people in this thread from my general statement was because they've explained their thoughts on the film fully enough for me to know that they're not like most of the Taxi Driver fans I've known, who love it because: they get to see DeNiro play a fucking badass who packs awesome firepower; they find his alienation really cool; and because they're bowled over by the film stylistically even though they fail to consider the film's connections to various of its predecessors. I never claimed to know what the "right" reasons for liking the film are. I fully recognize that people get different things out of the films they watch and that what are serious flaws to me may not matter to most other people who enjoy it, but I reserve the right to my own opinions and judgments about all this.
But again, it was only an aside because the film's reputation is not what this discussion is about.
Last edited by Gregory on Thu Sep 25, 2008 6:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#62 Post by Scharphedin2 » Thu Sep 25, 2008 5:55 pm

Schreck, do you really think it is that great of an achievement? Maybe I do not fully understand or follow your argument here. Having seen Taxi Driver (only) a couple of times, and basically admiring the pure cinematic aspects of the film, I felt that essentially there was not a lot there in the end. Travis to me is a variation on the kind of character that has been portrayed a lot in fiction (especially) since the last world war. A character, who is utterly lost and struggling to find meaning in a world that possibly no longer has any meaning.

What I specifically saw in Taxi Driver was an attempt by these young filmmakers to make their Wild Bunch. I remember questioning to myself the obvious care and relish that was put into the climactic scene of violence; how Scorsese pulled all the stops in this one scene, the most brutal one in the film; how it was almost like it became the purpose in and of itself to create a gorgeous cinematic experience out of this, as if by making it a bravura scene, it would somehow elevate the importance of the scene and the film.

It is a very good film, and it does attempt to say something about the human condition at that particular time in a specific place in the world, but in the whole amazing history of fantastic films, is it really that great of an achievement?

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#63 Post by swo17 » Thu Sep 25, 2008 6:44 pm

Gregory wrote:Oh, brother... That was not my reasoning at all, and it's unfair of you to assume that. Just because I didn't make a full case for that aside, it doesn't justify you in putting words in my mouth, especially ones as insulting as those. The reason I excluded people in this thread from my general statement was because they've explained their thoughts on the film fully enough for me to know that they're not like most of the Taxi Driver fans I've known, who love it because: they get to see DeNiro play a fucking badass who packs awesome firepower; they find his alienation really cool; and because they're bowled over by the film stylistically even though they fail to consider the film's connections to various of its predecessors. I never claimed to know what the "right" reasons for liking the film are. I fully recognize that people get different things out of the films they watch and that what are serious flaws to me may not matter to most other people who enjoy it, but I reserve the right to my own opinions and judgments about all this.
But again, it was only an aside because the film's reputation is not what this discussion is about.
I apologize if my playful exaggeration came across as insulting. However, I still stand by my interpretation of your statement that
Gregory wrote:most people who idolize the film do so for extremely poor reasons.
To me, this is an unfair stereotype on par with "all Star Trek fans are nerds" or "all Juno fans are wannabe indie hipsters." Though I suppose it depends on your meaning of the word idolize. If you intended that to represent just a portion of the people who have esteem for this film, then I can see your point and I think it is a valid one. But if you are suggesting that this is some sort of fanboy-elevated film that maintains its reputation primarily because people think it is so badass, then that's something I can't get on board with. But again, please take this with a grain of salt. I'm not trying to be insulting, or badass, or anything like that. 8-)

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#64 Post by Mr Sausage » Thu Sep 25, 2008 9:18 pm

Scharphedin2 wrote: I remember questioning to myself the obvious care and relish that was put into the climactic scene of violence; how Scorsese pulled all the stops in this one scene, the most brutal one in the film; how it was almost like it became the purpose in and of itself to create a gorgeous cinematic experience out of this, as if by making it a bravura scene, it would somehow elevate the importance of the scene and the film.
An odd reaction. The scene isn't more carefully crafted than any other in the movie--nor would one expect it to be less accomplished. I never felt the scene was crafted purposefully to show off its complexity and bravura, simply because it's such a shocking wet smack that one gets no chance to linger over or "relish" it. The moments of violence are sudden, they are not telegraphed: we track into the building, the owner walks down the stairs, puts his hand up and then--bang--suddenly the top of his hand comes off, which is physical damage you're not used to seeing in a movie. But you don't get time to contemplate it, because we cut sharply from the hand to Travis' face splattered with blood. There's a beat, we see a horrified reaction from Iris, and we're confronted again with a moment of untelegraphed violence: the side of Travis' neck bursts open, and it is only in the subsequent cut that we discover Keitel has shot him. That Travis turns around and shoots him back becomes an afterthought, rather than a major choreographed moment, since we're still unsteady from the sudden wounding. The same occurs after Travis has been shot in the arm: we barely have time to respond to the fact that the main character has been put to the floor, or wonder how he's going to get out of the situation, when that arm-gun comes out of the sleeve and puts four rapid shots into the gangster's face.

The whole scene negates the pleasure-structure of on-screen violence--build-up, release, refraction--by depriving us of the pleasure of expectation. The scene does not, for example, give us a lingering shot of Travis' .45 before he enters the hotel, which would allow the audience the anticipation of massive carnage whose release would be pleasurable. Rather, Scorsese cuts that out in favour of surprising us with the violence and only then cutting back to a shot of Travis holding the .45. Same with Sport's death: Scorsese does not show us his geographical/spacial relation to Travis' beforehand, so that we may anticipate their movements in combat. We get instead another moment of unexpected violence, and then the delayed decoding of its cause. Travis' wound and Sport's death are not set up beforehand.

The whole effect of this structure is to negate the easy pleasure of the on-screen gun fight in favour of emphasizing its grim and awful aspects. Far from being Scorsese's Battle of Bloody Porch (it's not even near the most famous moments of the movie), the moment uses the most disturbing and immediately unpleasureable aesthetics. So given how much care and effort is put into the rest of the movie, and given how Scorsese structures his gunfight in a way that lessens its possible pleasures, I cannot believe that Scorsese was making exploitation.

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#65 Post by Polybius » Fri Sep 26, 2008 12:23 am

swo17 wrote: But if you are suggesting that this is some sort of fanboy-elevated film that maintains its reputation primarily because people think it is so badass, then that's something I can't get on board with.
I think that niche is permanently filled by DePalma's Scarface. It's a good enough film, and I usually watch it when it's on, but it's not on the Coppola-Scorsese level that a lot of people would have you believe.

Someone once wrote that it was a film that they liked in spite of it's fans. (I think that was here sometime, but a cursory look through the archives failed to kick it into plain sight.) That's about right.

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#66 Post by Sloper » Fri Sep 26, 2008 4:39 am

I was going to make the Scarface comparison as well - every fucking student has a poster of either Taxi Driver or Scarface or, of course, the Godfather, on their walls. This immense 'badass' popularity that these three films enjoy always confuses me a bit. I mean Scarface goes on forever and you'd have to be pretty stoic to keep sitting through it if all you were interested in was the violence; the Godfather is similarly slow and light on action; and Taxi Driver, despite a climax which I think is done in a kind of deliberately 'exploitative' style, is an episodic and action-free arthouse film. I think it's partly the difficult, cult-ish aura that surrounds these films that makes them popular with studenty types. But I'm generalising, and That Is Bad.

Snobbish as it sounds, sometimes it's a little dismaying to find out who else likes your favourite films. As my friend says about Miller's Crossing - 'it's been appropriated by the wrong people'. Awful thing to say, but I agree.

Oh and Schreck, thanks for the White Boy Syndrome stuff, you kind of just explained the whole of Taxi Driver for me.

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#67 Post by Polybius » Fri Sep 26, 2008 6:06 am

I've pretty much reached a stage of cinematic Nirvana where I can flip the switch and go into full on solipsism mode about films I love. Unless someone comes right at me with an erroneous take on one of them, I just let it all slide. If that does happen, I'll try to make my case for why they're wrong, (while maybe wishing I could pull Alvy Singer's trick and call Joel Coen or Martin Scorsese out from behind the popcorn machine to back me up), and let it go at that.

Life's too short to stress about fools. Otherwise, we'd all be very busy and have really high blood pressure.

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#68 Post by tojoed » Fri Sep 26, 2008 6:40 am

Polybius wrote: I think that niche is permanently filled by DePalma's Scarface. It's a good enough film, and I usually watch it when it's on, but it's not on the Coppola-Scorsese level that a lot of people would have you believe.

Someone once wrote that it was a film that they liked in spite of it's fans. (I think that was here sometime, but a cursory look through the archives failed to kick it into plain sight.) That's about right.

I think someone quoted Pauline Kael, who said it was a DePalma film for people who didn't like DePalma films.

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HerrSchreck
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#69 Post by HerrSchreck » Fri Sep 26, 2008 11:20 am

Scharphedin2 wrote:Schreck, do you really think it is that great of an achievement? Maybe I do not fully understand or follow your argument here. Having seen Taxi Driver (only) a couple of times, and basically admiring the pure cinematic aspects of the film, I felt that essentially there was not a lot there in the end. Travis to me is a variation on the kind of character that has been portrayed a lot in fiction (especially) since the last world war. A character, who is utterly lost and struggling to find meaning in a world that possibly no longer has any meaning.

What I specifically saw in Taxi Driver was an attempt by these young filmmakers to make their Wild Bunch. I remember questioning to myself the obvious care and relish that was put into the climactic scene of violence; how Scorsese pulled all the stops in this one scene, the most brutal one in the film; how it was almost like it became the purpose in and of itself to create a gorgeous cinematic experience out of this, as if by making it a bravura scene, it would somehow elevate the importance of the scene and the film.

It is a very good film, and it does attempt to say something about the human condition at that particular time in a specific place in the world, but in the whole amazing history of fantastic films, is it really that great of an achievement?
To your overarching question, obviously my answer would be yes.

It's not a film that everyone is going to flip over-- but most films are that way. I think the (no offense) part of the world that you're from has a lot to do with the lack of import and impact on you. I have taken two scandinavians, whose culture couldn't be any more different that the world depicted in Taxi Driver, to see the movie, and not only didn't they like the movie, they couldn't understand why someone would want to make such an upleasant movie. They were not only confused, but angry: they felt that they had been subjected to a supreme unpleasantness for the sake of nothing but itself. "Why would I want to sit and watch a man go through this and then do that?" was the overriding question/sentiment.

I really don't register Taxi Driver as "cinema" in terms of High Formal Cinema, the same way I don't register The Catcher In The Rye the same way that I register something like Ulysses (which nontheless is one of my favorite novels). It's something far mure urgent, primal, and livid. It just is what it is, something that jumped out of the three primary contributors in a sort of act of contrition or purging. Like Naked Lunch by Burroughs... formally it's a mess, but as a piece of raging creativity and utterly original response to the world on behalf of the author, it's simply untouchable as far as I'm concerned. The sincerity, the originality, the extreme authenticity and level of insight are unmatched. I often prefer these works to more formally arranged pieces filled with gleaming surfaces. Kind of like commentaries on discs: I like fanatics like Kalat or Mank better than I like the overwrought theories of the commentaries on CC's Pandora or Threepenny. Creativity for me should be before anything else original and hugely personal.

I see you're fixation on the final violence, and association with the Wild Bunch as about as far off the mark as could be imagined. The profundity of the film is in the authenticity of Travis' state, rendered so bravely that it leaves absolutely no doubt that these three men have been there themselves and have experienced to some degree this level of isolation and embarassment. It's about shame, bad habits, lying to yourself about your own grandness to survive being so far down in the dumps you hardly feel human any longer. The violence at the end, which one would expect to be cathartic, is exactly opposite, and there is perhaps no solution or escape for this man. For me the work seems to be a product of a profound depression, with an extreme cycnicism regarding the possibility of redeeming a man broken beyond a certain point. Look at Schrader today: the man is still a hobbled, tic-addled, nervous wreck.

Postwar films and pieces of literature have dealt with alienation, isolation, etc-- the postwar dislocated male is a benchmark of a lot of noir-- but never as in Taxi Driver. Sure, sushi is being served all over NYC, but there's only one Tomoe on Thompson Street.

But again-- and please-- there is no blanket assessment to be laid down for All regarding this or any film. The achievement, despite it's Palme D'or, whatever, is quite simply whatever it does for you personally.

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Scharphedin2
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#70 Post by Scharphedin2 » Sun Sep 28, 2008 12:20 pm

HerrSchreck wrote:To your overarching question, obviously my answer would be yes.

It's not a film that everyone is going to flip over-- but most films are that way. I think the (no offense) part of the world that you're from has a lot to do with the lack of import and impact on you.

...

But again-- and please-- there is no blanket assessment to be laid down for All regarding this or any film. The achievement, despite it's Palme D'or, whatever, is quite simply whatever it does for you personally.
Schreck, I suppose I can walk with you down the path of the final greatness of any film being in the eye of the beholder, and that was really where I was going with my initial post. Like you, personal investment, authenticity and honesty are all qualities that I admire in literature, film, music, etc. Scorsese is always a difficult topic for me; I started out being a big fan of his work, both because of its sense of being deeply personal, and for its sense of ambition and on-going dialogue with the history of filmmaking. However, as the years have passed, and Scorsese has made many more films, I have begun to question the elements of personal experience and sincerity, and his recourse to screen violence. I am not trying to knock the man or his films, more to come to terms with how I feel about them.

When I saw Taxi Driver, I was very affected by the character of Travis Bickle. The isolation of this man, even when he is with other people, and his pouring out his inner life into his grade school composition books, as well as his sense of hopelessness and meaninglessness at observing the world going to the dogs around him. The portrait of Travis is superbly realized. As is the portrait of the city, and I can imagine how this element of the film is even stronger if one is intimately familiar with the streets of New York. I am not, although I have spent a good part of my life in and around the cities of Chicago and Washington D.C. (no offense on the Scandinavian part, although for better or worse I sit rather uncomfortably with the local boys and girls), and from those experiences I related to the atmosphere and detail of observation that went into the depiction of Travis’s world of New York. What is even greater about this depiction (I think) is that for all its detail and atmosphere, it is not an authentic depiction; it is a heightened depiction by being filtered through the eyes and mind of Travis.

Where the film finally does not attain the highest level of greatness (for me) is in the fact that Schrader and Scorsese do not manage to lift themselves and the material out of the downward spiral. Taxi Driver is a depiction of a certain state of being, and I am sure that there is a lot of autobiography in this depiction, or, they would not have been able to create such a convincing film. As people, who have been on journeys similar to Travis’, these men then must have experienced something, or made decisions in their lives, that somehow brought them out of that state of being, or, at least found a way to live in some kind of harmony with it. Travis on the other hand explodes in violence, and then (as I see the film) he continues in the same groove. I do not think, Travis is shown to attain any insight or understanding by the end of the film, and he is offered no new way by the filmmakers. The film remains a still life of a state of being. The film is still a very good film, but I think that a portrait that powerful should offer something more, at least in order to be a truly great film.

With respect to the violence of the finale, it obviously works within the story, and I do not think that Scorsese was making “exploitation” as such, although I can see where my initial post would seem to suggest something along those lines. It is also true that the whole film is extremely well crafted, and the shootout probably no more or less so. Still, it is a scene that fills a lot in the film, and it is crucial in that it crosses the line between depicting a man who is self-destructive and to him bringing that destructiveness out into the world, and it is a scene that is carried out with a lot of logistic and graphic detail, and ends in what (to my memory) is the film’s longest and most complex tracking shot. Maybe I am wrong, but I experienced this as a tour-de-force within the film, and my question remains, what is the great point that the filmmakers are making in order to necessitate or justify the use of such powerful imagery? (I think it is important in this context to remember that the film was made in the mid-‘70s, and I am sure that it was more shocking then, than it is to contemporary audiences).

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Mr Sausage
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#71 Post by Mr Sausage » Sun Sep 28, 2008 1:22 pm

Scharphedin2 wrote:what is the great point that the filmmakers are making in order to necessitate or justify the use of such powerful imagery?
If you're looking for "great points" and big ideas and philosophical weight you've come to the wrong movie. If you've been reading Schreck's posts, you'll notice the movie is interested in the ambiguity of the central character, not with big issues or with some sort of grand scheme that parcels out the world into easily grasped portions. But maybe I fail to understand your objection. You don't like the violent scene because it's too violent? It's not enough that the movie wants the audience to be shocked and horrified at the violence Travis' perpetrates, it needs to make a didactic point to justify itself? And what counts as "powerful imagery" in this case? The freeze-frame at the end of The 400 Blows counts as powerful imagery. All "powerful imagery" means to me is imagery that has a heavy effect on the viewer. OK, so in Taxi Driver we have a character who slowly descends into the most shocking violence, and you object that that violence has too powerful a negative effect on the audience, despite that being more or less how violence should affect people. You think it should have had less an effect (and therebye be more like a conventional, enjoyable action scene)?
As people, who have been on journeys similar to Travis’, these men then must have experienced something, or made decisions in their lives, that somehow brought them out of that state of being, or, at least found a way to live in some kind of harmony with it. Travis on the other hand explodes in violence, and then (as I see the film) he continues in the same groove. I do not think, Travis is shown to attain any insight or understanding by the end of the film, and he is offered no new way by the filmmakers. The film remains a still life of a state of being. The film is still a very good film, but I think that a portrait that powerful should offer something more, at least in order to be a truly great film.
Unfortunately you're just demanding the movie be what you assume 'great art' should be, without accounting for your assumptions. Your rationale for having Travis achieve redemption is thin because it avoids the idea that people can self-destruct, or spend their lives caught in vicious-cycles, or go through life without attaining any greater understanding of themselves. I assure you, people can, and do--and do so more frequently than the opposite. Again, I have to wonder why it's not enough that a movie gets sincerely and deeply within the mental space of such a person, and with an acuity never before seen. Neither Jake Lamotta or Rupert Pupkin end their respective movies in a state of either grace or enlightenment; are Raging Bull and The King of Comedy also artistic failures? There is no lack of insight into these three characters on behalf of their respective movies; why they should also achieve insight on themselves when they are in no position to do so is beyond me. These movies are not high tragedies. Reversal and recognition (let alone redemption) is not the necessary structure.

In short, I don't see how your demands could possibly make Taxi Driver better or more successful.

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#72 Post by Scharphedin2 » Sun Sep 28, 2008 4:24 pm

That people spend their lives in stalemates with themselves, I do not question for a moment, and I am sure that this is far more often the reality, than people managing to attain greater understanding and break out of themselves. These things most of us simply know, if we have lived at all. Is it enough to present a deeply convincing portrait of such a life to make a good film. Absolutely, I would say, and Taxi Driver (which in many respects I like a lot) would be an excellent example. Is it enough to satisfy what I assume ‘great art’ should be, aside from you putting words in my mouth, I would say that I am probably not resolved, or, more correctly, I struggle with this and am attempting to come to a personal understanding.

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#73 Post by Mr Sausage » Sun Sep 28, 2008 8:10 pm

Scharphedin2 wrote:Is it enough to present a deeply convincing portrait of such a life to make a good film.
Perhaps here's the problem, being that Taxi Driver does not only present a convincing portrait. First of all, the depth to which the movie goes to understand the ambiguities of its main figure--and its refusal to simplify the ambiguities and the contradictions--is exemplary. Secondly, the way it doesn't want merely to offer Travis up for your consideration, but rather actually engage your sympathy with him, to try to bring you closer to his mentality by allowing points of contact between his life and yours, despite how little you may identify with his extreme actions, is not only daring, but quite a feat considering I think it's pulled off (perhaps even more audacious than Hitchcock's repositioning of the audience's sympathy halfway through Psycho). Travis is never a figure of isolated degradation, to be observed and cringed at from a distance. He's a figure that elicits sympathy, which is damn hard to do; and that sympathy not only makes Taxi Driver a human film, but a film through which one can find a better understanding of one's own moments of loneliness, alienation, and social embarrassment.

If none of the above works for you, then there's nothing to be said. I know it's a banality, but it's true that some movies/artworks just don't work for you, for whatever reason, and never will.
Scharphedin2 wrote:Is it enough to satisfy what I assume ‘great art’ should be, aside from you putting words in my mouth, I would say that I am probably not resolved, or, more correctly, I struggle with this and am attempting to come to a personal understanding.
Well your exact words were a "great film." You'll excuse me, with your implied talk about the working of art, if I made it a bit more encompassing.

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Re: Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)

#74 Post by hearthesilence » Fri Jan 28, 2011 5:57 pm

New Taxi Driver restoration to premiere at Berlinale....perhaps THIS is something that will be used for an upcoming (and long f-ing delayed) Blu-Ray edition?

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Person
Joined: Sat May 19, 2007 3:00 pm

Re: Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)

#75 Post by Person » Sat Jan 29, 2011 4:36 am

I wonder if Michael Chapman was involved. The reds of the blood were dialled down during the answer print in 1976 but if they could be finally realised in our gizmo age, we'd all be happy. Maybe.

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