Tuesday 26 February 2013

Taxi Driver (1976)

I mentioned my film-watching antics to my friend Rob Reed, who lectures in film-related things, so seemed likely to suggest films I hadn't seen and wouldn't have thought of.  He knows how ignorant I am of cinema (or rather, he knows which areas of film I've fixated on, and therefore what I've missed), and, when Christmas came, gave me a film wrapped in festive paper.  'Taxi Driver' was that film (or else this paragraph would seem irrelevant, would it not?).  

The only Martin Scorsese-directed films I'd seen at this point were 'The Last Temptation of Christ' (1988) and 'No Direction Home' (2005), a documentary about Bob Dylan - both of which apparently lay some way outside his usual style.  I had a notion that his films were violent, dark, and full of Italian-Americans shouting at each other (a prospect I've now found hails from his 1990 work 'Goodfellas', which Rob likewise pressed into my hands).

Oh look, some guns.

I suspected that this film would lead to a violent finale, but I wasn't certain even of this.  For the first half-hour, this could just turn into an idiosyncratic romantic comedy, except that our taxi-driving protagonist is just a tad too intense, too socially awkward, and then increasingly so.  For some reason, it hadn't to me occurred at all that the plot would actually be about a man driving a taxi around, but that's how it went.

From the off this was far more attractive than the other 70s films I've looked at so far.  Richer, more menacing, with the taxi prowling, leonine.  We see Robert de Niro thinking, as he drives his taxi, but we don't know what about.  Even in his narration, he gives few clues.  Only the music is overtly menacing - and it's Bernard Hermann composing, so it could hardly be otherwise.

I'll jump past the main body of the film, as I've no interest in reciting synopses in this blog.  In what I took to be the final ten minutes, the film seems to slip into another genre - the practiced violence, the spree I'd spent the last hour preparing for, is far, far dirtier, less clean and easy than I'd expected.  The colours fade and the world slips into slower and slower motion until time seems to stop to show us the whole mess.  Then, when I most expected the film to end, it doesn't.  There are five or ten more minutes, which serve to make the scenario even more unsettling, the idea that the events in this film could happen anywhere, to anyone, for no particular reason.


I sometimes wonder what it's like to live in America, where films such as this are set, not in some bigger, cooler, distant and more important nation, but in your homeland.  The States always seem much grander that Britain, even when that just means grimmer and more horrible - and the accents, to one who never visited, mark New York out as a genre rather than a region.

Anyway, I feel I've been writing too many words about some films lately, so, while I could go on rather longer, I'll curtail this here.  Less is more, as they say.

P.S. Since the last update was from the 60s and this was from the 70s, you can expect an 80s film on Thursday, a 90s one on Sunday, and so on, until I grow bored and frustrated with the pattern.  It might prompt me to finally watch something from the 1950s, a decade untouched by the last forty-four films I've watched over the past four months.

The film, if you yearn for it.

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