Wed, Apr 23, 2014
One of the signature films of New Hollywood, Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER (1976) was both shocking and prescient. Visual Consultant Thomas Ethan Harris reveals the cinematic techniques that give Scorsese’s dark masterpiece its remarkable power.
***Please Note: As this program is a film seminar, we will not be screening TAXI DRIVER in its entirety. Selective scenes will be used for illustration and reference. Seminar attendees are encouraged to view the whole film in advance of the seminar. ***
“I’m God’s Lonely Man.”
- Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER (1976)
SCORSESE. SCHRADER. DE NIRO. MASTERPIECE.
The New American Cinema of the late 1960s and 1970s delivered what is perhaps the most artistically ambitious output of films domestically made in our nation’s history.
Nearly 40 years later, it is difficult to think of an American film from the 1970s that has so continually risen in appreciation, adoration and downright cult fanaticism by contemporary audiences than Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER (1976). Francis Ford Coppola’s “GODFATHERS” (1972/1974) and Roman Polanski’s CHINATOWN (1974) come close to doing the same for today’s mainstream audiences and Stanley Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) comes close for art house goers but one would be hard pressed to find quite the same deeply passionate obsessions over the journey of a single character like those held for Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in TAXI DRIVER.
Unlike other American masterworks that secured greater critical and audience appreciation as the years passed - like Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) or Hitchcock’s VERTIGO (1958) or Welles’s CITIZEN KANE (1941) and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942) - TAXI DRIVER was always universally praised as a great film by critics and audiences alike. Does anyone not like TAXI DRIVER? TAXI DRIVER received four 1976 Academy Award nominations including “Best Picture” (it lost to ROCKY) and it united critical fronts as diverse as Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael. It was also a terrific box office success.
But unlike many other masterworks from the 1970s, TAXI DRIVER seems even more famous and popular today. While the New York City depicted in Scorsese’s 1976 film has literally vanished through the city’s over all “Disneyfication” of 42nd Street and beyond, contemporary audiences are still eager to climb into the back of Travis’s cab for another ride. TAXI DRIVER is now 38 years old but the film easily sustains a relevance uniquely its own and actually feels ultra modern in its narrative and filmic determinations.
• What is it about Scorsese’s examination of hero and myth in TAXI DRIVER that is so penetrating to today’s audiences?
• What is it that connects contemporary audiences so tightly to TAXI DRIVER’s troubled cabbie, Travis Bickle? What power does Travis hold over us?
• How much do the competing artistic forces of screenwriter Paul Schrader’s obsessions with the transcendental in cinema and director Scorsese’s more earthbound explorations into madness and isolation sustain TAXI DRIVER’s tremendous power?
• How has Scorsese photographed, edited and employed sound design to determine Travis Bickle? How does Scorsese cinematically realize Travis far outside of the intentions of the film’s script to allow Travis Bickle to emerge as one of the most memorable characters in the history of cinema?
• “You talkin' to me?” Besides the remarkable performance of Robert De Niro, why has this TAXI DRIVER scene emerged as one of the most famous movie moments in the history of cinema? It’s not just performance and writing alone that makes this moment so indelible.
• How do the visual, aural and narrative design elements of late 1940s/early 1950s film noir (lighting, music, narrative structure, narration) both solidify and intensify the experience of watching TAXI DRIVER?
• How do such diverse films as Robert Bresson’s exquisite tale of redemption PICKPOCKET (1959), John Ford’s classic western THE SEARCHERS (1958) and Alfred Hitchcock’s horror film PSYCHO (1960) triangulate to influence the character and narrative design of TAXI DRIVER?
Visual Consultant Thomas Ethan Harris probes underneath the surface of Martin Scorsese’s first masterpiece to uncover how to make a true screen original.
Our DECONSTRUCTING TAXI DRIVER seminar is intended for both filmmakers and film lovers as a Master Class in Screen Direction and as a rare opportunity to discover how visionary filmmakers embed their personal and artistically interpretive voice into all aspects of visual and aural construction. We will be dissecting TAXI DRIVER scene by scene (and sometimes shot by shot) to reinvestigate how directorial choices made in both production and post-production ellicit such a profound and often primal response in the viewer.