Van Halen, April 10, 2012 Sunrise, FL

Martin Scorsese has delivered one creative masterpiece per decade since the 1970s.  He uses sensual cinematography to paint New York City as a modern hell.  The director’s work is comparable to Dante’s epic Inferno poem about the Underworld.  Every shot is tight.  Before Scorsese delivered The Departed in 2006, 1990’s Goodfellas or 1980’s Raging Bull, the world of cinema was blessed with Taxi Driver in 1976.

Written by Paul Schrader, Taxi Driver is the study of one’s psychosis.  While Jeff Bridges was once considered for the legendary role, Robert De Niro was cast as Travis Bickle.  He is an uneducated Vietnam vet.  The honorably discharged Marine morphs into a mentally unstable, pill popping insomniac.  He lacks social skills and cannot relate to a single person he meets.  Travis is lonely.  Not even his coworkers can see Travis’s points-of-view.  They’re more concerned with light-hearted realities, like how midgets always want to sit up front.  Bickle eventually becomes infatuated with Betsy, a Presidential campaign worker played by Cybil Shepherd. 

The cabby keeps a diary and voices his thoughts to the audience.  “All the animals come out at night - whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal.  Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets,” he explains.  Dressed in a military jacket with a mohawk, De Niro communicates with his eyes, asking the famous question, “You talkin’ to me?”  The camera actually captures Bickle going insane.

Travis was a man who would not take it anymore.  Determined to clean up his diluted town, the contemporary day cowboy becomes a ruthless vigilante.  He wants to save Betsy from prostituting herself to a campaigning politician.  He has no luck.  He considers himself the savior who stands up against the filth in the city to improve its conditions.  Betsy compares Bickle to the Kris Kristofferson song “Pilgrim.”  She says “He’s a prophet and a pusher… Partly truth and partly fiction… A walking contradiction.”

Scorsese appears and hires the driver to stalk his cheating wife.  The enraged husband gives vivid detail of what he’ll do to her body with a 44-Magnum.  The character is responsible for prompting aggressive violence into Travis’s head.  Bickle grows overly concerned for Iris, a 12-year-old hooker played by Jodi Foster from the mean streets of the Big Apple.  A long-haired Harvey Keitel is the call-girl’s funny looking pimp who will never let her walk away from his business.

On a rampage to set Iris free from her profession, Travis blows a few fingers off of a bad guy’s hand.  It is representative of a story told to Betsy earlier.  Her coworker describes what the Italian mob does to a thief who screws up on the job. “They’ll blow off his fingers,” he says.  Bickle obviously pictured the antagonist stealing the lady’s body and innocence for personal gain.

Travis is successful in saving Iris.  He’s an avenging angel, making a positive difference in the youngster’s life, as well as her family’s.  He is a hero.  This fact makes Taxi Driver stand out among all of Scorsese’s classics as the only script with a happy ending.  The uncivil servant goes on an escapade that turns him into a media poster-boy.  Similarly, Bernard Goetz shot four delinquents that were harassing him for cash on the subway.  Little did they know he was carrying an unregistered Smith and Wesson.  He served 250 days on a weapons charge for shooting the boys and became an underground champion in the streets. 

The 1976 movie almost received an X-rating when it was released, thanks to its graphic content.  Eventually, some the bloody red images were faded in the final scene to earn an R-rating.  There are numerous jump cuts, expressive lens movements and freaky color dissolves.  Scorsese always uses unbelievable soundtracks.  In much of flick, there is no background music used.  Rather, we hear the continuous car horns and screams of the urban jungle.  The scenes settings are then topped with Bernard Herrmann’s uncanny score.  To the director’s surprise, Taxi Driver was a box-office success.  The underage Foster even received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. 

Taxi Driver was part of Cinema Vérité’s monthly showing and discussion group in Fort Lauderdale’s Cinema Paradiso.  The meeting in June lasted 30-minutes.  Participants debated if Travis is an idol, a mental case, or both?  Is he Charles Bronson or Charles Manson?  Perhaps the greatest theory brought to light was the conclusion actually being a dream sequence as Bickle passes away.  The story’s hand-written letters of appreciation and media coverage he received may be too farfetched.  Would Bickle return to the same daily routine of driving a cab?  And he was almost too cool when later bumping into Betsy.  Giving her a free lift, he drives her past the infamous Saint Regis Hotel, an establishment known for high-class call-girls.  Also, Saint Regis is historically renowned for assisting prostitutes, a figure that Travis compares himself to.  Is it possible that Scorsese wanted viewers’ final images to be figments of the killer’s wild imagination as he dies?   Whether the infamous taxi driver lives or the happy ending is merely a hallucination of his death, the memorable finale is open to each spectator’s interpretation. 

"As with all great works of art, the artist tells a story, paints a picture and creates a film because it’s the best way he or she can communicate a greater meaning,” said Rick Hunter, Debate Leader and Pastor of Fort Lauderdale’s City Church.  “Artists are artists.  They are not philosophers, scientists, or theologians.  But they convey these themes in their work.  You can’t walk away without chewing on the film for days and sometimes weeks at a time."

Cinema Verite’s screenings and meetings take place on the third Monday of every month at 7pm for only $5 a ticket.  June will feature Peter Sellers in Stanley Kubrik’s Dr. Strangelove on the 21st.  Crimes & Misdemeanors will show in August, followed by September’s Sunset Boulevard–Todd McFliker                                    
“He’s a poet, he's a picker, he’s a prophet, he’s a pusher
He’s a pilgrim and a preacher and a problem when he's stoned
He's a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction
Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home”

– Kris Kristofferson’s “Pilgrim”