Sunday, April 12, 2015
8:21 PM |
Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976)
The thing about iconic films is that the best of their images are burned so deeply into our collective pop cultural memory that to choose a "best shot" to define our appreciation of them is an exercise fraught with peril, because the shots we do love -- Janet Leigh's dead eyes segueing from the shower drainage in Psycho
, Julie Andrews making that first twirl in the hills in The Sound of Music
, Tom Cruise hanging from that wire in the first Mission: Impossible
-- make the very act of choosing them an exercise in cliche.
Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver
(1976), lensed with pulsating savagery by Michael Chapman, is one of those films. Think about it. There's Travis Bickle preening before a mirror, asking "Are you talking to me?" There's Travis in a mohawk with fingers laced with blood. There's Travis taking Betsy out on a date in a porn theatre. There's Travis and Iris in that suffocating room where she takes her tricks. There's Travis and Sport in that final orgy of killings.
All these in a burst of concentrated energy weaved together with slithering skill by Tom Rolf and Melvin Shapiro. (Thelma Schoonmaker would officially become Scorsese's go-to film editor starting in 1980 with Raging Bull
But the film above all is an examination of New York as the very embodiment of hell on earth, with Robert de Niro's character being a psychotic and self-righteous adventurer through the city's fiery highways, essentially playing Charon to its sinful denizens.
Which is why the film's first image serves well as the perfect introduction (and short hand) to its themes: here's a taxi weaving through hellish city smoke, itself tinged with the fiery red of the city's neon lights. It says, "Welcome to hell, and this is your ride."
It is my best shot for a film that is replete with so many best shots.
This post is part of Nathaniel Rogers' Hit Me With Your Best Shot series over at The Film Experience blog.
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