Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wait...Did We Watch the Same Movie? (Taxi Driver)

By Alex "The Savant" Heisman

© 2011

No matter what I may be doing, be it something as simple as a trip to the supermarket or going for a drive, my mind is often transported back to a great scene from the humorous 2006 movie The TV Set. Mike Klein (David Duchovny), a struggling writer who can’t seem to sell his script for a new pilot to any network, finally lets all his troubles overwhelm him and berates his assistant, Alice (Judy Greer), when he finds out she has never seen his favorite movie, Taxi Driver. As the two bicker, the comedic tension in the scene is brought to such a point that when Alice, still remaining completely ignorant of the entire situation, misunderstands the name of the movie and screams “I WILL RENT THE TAXI DRIVER OKAY?!”, it allows me to greatly relate to her character.

The secret I’m about to divulge may make me appear to be a terrible film buff, but I think it’s time to let the world know: until this past weekend, I had never seen Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver. I do deserve brownie points, however, as I have started to watch it three, yes, THREE, times in the past. Despite progressively getting about ten minutes farther in each time, my finger found its way to the stop button as I never seemed to able to get into the groove of the movie. The reason I kept revisiting the movie was that, like Mike from The TV Set, literally everyone champions this particular film as being one of the single greatest accomplishments in the history of cinema. No less than Roger Ebert himself labeled this movie as “one of the greatest he has ever seen”. It must finally be stated that there was no specific reason or aspect of production that previously kept me from seeing Taxi Driver…there were just other movies I had never seen that I wished to watch first.

With my girlfriend at William and Mary for the weekend (I’m not bitter!), I used the ample free time I now had at my disposal to now watch the film in its entirety. I mean this in all due sincerity: I. was. bored. FREAKIN. stiff. the…entire…time. I knew the entire point of the film was to present an intense character study of a lonely, disillusioned “warrior”, but there is a distinct line between a film that accomplishes just that goal, and one that takes its message to the point of monotony. Special dishonorable mention must be immediately paid to Bernard Hermann’s famous (for what reason?) saxophone score. As Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) drives his cab all over New York City throughout the night, the wailing jazz solo that accompanies him creates a somber tone. Eventually this original score becomes excruciating and completely out of place when it changes key about halfway through.

Secondly, while VERY controversial for its time, this film has not held up well. Robert De Niro’s inward reflections seem almost childish as he attempts to produce a macho presence in his scenes with the girl he likes, Cybill Shepherd (remember her!), and a 12-year-old prostitute (Jodie Foster) he hopes to provide a new life for. Oh! Yes! What a gimmicky performance by Ms. Foster. I had hoped, being such an interesting character to undertake, that the normally outstanding Jodie Foster would provide a bright spot in this laborious production. Her scenes amount to a total run time of just over ten minutes and her character never hits such scandalous notes as probably befalls a child hooker (I say probably as I would have no way of knowing.)

All this is not to dispel the notion that I did not enjoy the film completely. The bloody ending absolutely captivated me as I certainly did not see it coming, and it truly is a gritty, realistic ode to New York for which Martin Scorsese ultimately became known. I was just expecting a whole lot more for all the championing done by scholars, family members, friends, and yes, Mike Klein. It was not the worst film I’ve ever seen (Hey! I’ve sat through Cabaret and lived to tell the tale!), but it thankfully lost all four of its Oscar nominations: Best Picture (we are going to pretend Rocky did not even come close to the Academy Awards and the masterpiece Network took this award that year), Best Actor (De Niro), Best Supporting Actress (Foster), and Best Original Score (Hermann).

If you’ve enjoyed this review, please let us know! Paul and I have been toying with creating a new series out of this. We would choose, or you could suggest, a film (usually classic), that for one reason or another we should have seen but have not yet. Paul and I will record what we already know heading in/what we expect, and compare that to how we actually feel when we’ve seen it.



  1. You are an idiot. You probably hated The King of Comedy too. You have no right to call yourself a film buff.... Like this film or not you don't even show appreciation for the artistry that went into making this staggering masterpiece. This film was an experiment in mood and clearly it failed to resonate with you (you probably didn't understand Drive either). How could you claim you've been enamored with film for ten years and yet failed to catch Taxi Driver in all that time? Paul Schrader wrote a screenplay people have been striving to replicate for decades and yet "The Savant" found it boring? Get your priorities strait, and find a new hobby.

  2. Thank god, at least you enjoyed Drive...

  3. @ Anonymous:

    I'd...respect?...your comment a little more if you didn't bring up points that really didn't strengthen your argument in the slightest. First, I, in fact, did comment on the artistic integrity of the film. Read closer and you just might find it- hint: it's located at all the places I talked about the score, the acting, the directing, etc. Second, "it clearly failed to resonate with me". Well, yes, that's completely the reason why I wrote this article. That particular point does not contribute a thing overall to what you say. Third, you've got me! I must be a terrible film buff if I've let this one particular film slip through the cracks. Forget about all the hundreds/thousands of other films I've seen in my life. If we focus on this particular one, again the point of the series being to catch up on one's we've missed, then I'd be perfect...but no one is. Lastly, "and yet "The Savant" found it boring?" Yes, I did, my own personal opinion is that I disliked the film. That has nothing to do with the artistic quality of the piece. Oh, wait, not lastly- you misspelled "straight"

    -The Savant

  4. @Anonymous #1

    You're an idiot, my friend. The Savant, while not as good looking as Paul "Main Character in Deadwood Dick here" Goldberg, is still a better critic and human being than you will ever be.

  5. I have not seen this film since it came out and I did not get all the hype then, even. It is not a film I have seen since.

  6. I wish i had a penis as big as the savants.

    it will say anonymous...but this is matt anderson

  7. @ matt anderson:

    How dare you, sir, pollute this forum with your profane drivel.

  8. I'm actually severely disappointed that my Anonymous poster friend never came back with an attempt at a witty retort for me!

    -The Savant

  9. Having visited your blog again, I have enjoyed reading many of your more recent articles. While I don't generally agree with many of your points, I can definitely respect the time you've put into your site. While I do feel the title of "The Savant" is somewhat self congratulatory, to each his own. I also read you didn't like Moneyball? To be honest of all the nominees I thought it was easily one of the strongest. I was not pleased to see Hill basically nominated for sharing the screen with Brad Pitt but I would think it was Pitt's most emotionally controlled and fully realized performance to date. Of a year full of performances stronger than the film's they came from I would say Moneyball was one of the more well rounded films. Streep was far superior to The Iron Lady, and I would say it wouldn't be too far to say the same for Williams in Marilyn, I was sad to see Swinton ignored for We need to talk about Kevin which was a film that managed to actually keep up with her explosive performance. Fassbender was the biggest upset for me, probably Mulligan as well because as far as I'm concerned Shame was the film to beat in 2011, having said that though I also adored 2008's Hunger. Rampart was a film that didn't at all live up to its lead performance but I was a little surprised to see Harrelson fall to the wayside the way he did so early in the season. I was glad to see you put A Separation as your winner for foreign language film, I caught Bullhead and In Darkness over the weekend and really enjoyed them but it would be nearly impossible for any film this year foreign or not to be as perfectly executed as A Separation. As for your documentary pick, Purgatory is a safe bet, my personal favorite of the nominees was easily Pina or If a Tree Falls but as far as a political message goes Wender's immersive 3D documentary has no chance. But to the point, Taxi Driver is a polarizing film that many disagree on, and while I might not have agreed with your views it was a well put together article that I allowed myself to get frustrated over, and I apologize. I will be looking forward to some sort of post oscar article from you all and please keep up the blog, it's definitely fun to visit. I only post under Anonymous because I don't know you all anyways so I don't fully see the need for names.
    PS, I apologize as well for the lack of spelling and grammar, I wrote this very much as a stream of consciousness. And you're right, I did spell straight wrong.

    1. @ Anonymous,

      Sorry I have taken so long to write back, I just now noticed that you have responded again. Thank you for taking the time to write such a post. I'm glad we disagree on some things, like Moneyball, as it keeps the conversation flowing. I'm also glad you bring up the fact that many of the performances were done a disservice by their poorer films. I completely agree and it made rooting for any particular film difficult. You have apologized to me so I feel it is only right to apologize back to you as well. I finally saw Taxi Driver and didn't get it but I absolutely respect that most others, like yourself, really appreciate the film. The Good-Looking One and I hope to create a friendly atmosphere here so feel free to post under any name you want, although posting under Anonymous accomplishes the fact as well. God bless you, friend, for saying you wrote this akin to stream of consciousness as Virginia Woolf is tied for my favorite author and that is very much her style of writing. I can appreciate very much. Come back often, I'd love to see you here. Although, just saying, if you post under Anonymous every time, I won't know it's you!

      - The Savant (I did not name myself this, by the way, so I would not agree that it is self-congratulatory. But, do each his own).