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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.