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Taxi Driver: Collector’s Edition DVD Review

Taxi Driver: Collector’s Edition

August 15, 2007

Director: Martin Scorsese,
Starring: Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Peter Boyle, Leonard Harris,

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DVD Review

Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) captures the sense of disillusionment that people felt towards the Vietnam War, racial hatred, and dishonest politicians like Richard Nixon in the 1970’s. His film is an emblematic document of its time and mirrors the imminent collapse of American urban society. A few years ago, respectable DVD was released but now Sony has gone back to the well and delivered a truly impressive Collector’s Edition jam-packed with loads of extras.

Scorsese introduces the viewer to the worldview of lonely cabby, Travis Bickle (De Niro) early on. Travis’ outlook is conveyed through diary style voiceovers. It is readily apparent that the city has had a warping effect on him. It is as if we are seeing the city from his point-of-view and this point is emphasized when he says, “Some day a real rain’ll come and wash all this scum off the streets.” Scorsese uses the film techniques of voiceovers mixed with point-of-view shots to transport the viewer into Travis’ head. These techniques illustrate how he views the world around him. Travis is a lonely man who sees New York City as a filthy, evil place that must be cleaned up.

Scorsese presents New York City as a frightening place inhabited by dangerous people. As Travis prepares himself for his assassination attempt on Presidential hopeful Charles Pallantine (Harris), he enters a variety store to buy food. While he is in the store, it is robbed by a young black man and Travis acts immediately by shooting the would-be assailant. This is an important step in Travis standing up to the filth that he loathes so much. He takes an active role, no longer remaining passive and apathetic. This scene also shows the madness and brutality of city life. Scorsese takes this feeling of madness and danger and conveys it on the screen with brutal honesty.

Alienation plays an important role in Taxi Driver. Travis is almost always alone. One of the first images screenwriter, Paul Schrader came up with for the film was a lone taxi driver in the middle of a busy city but still alone. Travis is often shown driving by himself in his cab, lying on his bed, writing in his diary and so on. Even when he is talking to others he seems to be in another world inside his head. This is illustrated in the scenes with Travis and the other cabbies. He is slow to answer them and rarely pays attention to what they have to say. Travis is an outsider who does not fit into society. Even he seems to recognize this when he says, “Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars and cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.” Travis has no way to express himself until the end of the film when he uses violence to prove that he exists.

Travis is a product of his environment and Taxi Driver is a character study of people who live in a large city and how this life affects them. Travis is so alienated from others that violence is the only way out. For him, violence is the only way left to express himself. As the film progresses, he is slowly disintegrating and losing control, symbolizing the chaos that has enveloped so many big cities. There is a real sense of disillusionment with urban society in these films. The protagonists are not romantic, beautiful people; they are scary, dangerous individuals who embody the fears of all of us, justifying our own paranoia, as well as the problems that an urban society creates.

Special Features:

The first disc features an audio commentary by Professor Robert Kolker. He analyzes the film’s style and themes but tends to describe what we are seeing making obvious statements. He talks about the influence of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies on Taxi Driver but in mind-numbingly boring way.

The second commentary is by the film’s screenwriter Paul Schrader. He says that his script was full of factual inaccuracies about taxis which Scorsese corrected. Schrader points out that what Travis wears in the film is what he wore when he wrote the script. At the time, he was drifting through life and was an alcoholic whose girlfriend had left him. Schrader also points out Travis’ contradictory nature – he talks about purifying his body yet he also takes speed. There are several lulls during this commentary but he more than makes up for it with some excellent observations about the film and the nature of screenwriting.

“Original Screenplay” allows you to read the original shooting script and then go to the corresponding scene in the film.

The second disc starts off with “Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver.” He says that the film was a labour of love for all involved. He talks about the genesis of the film and how hard it was to get a studio interested. Scorsese says that visually, everything is from Travis’ point-of-view. The director also didn’t think that the film was going to be successful critically or commercially and was surprised when it was.

“Producing Taxi Driver” features Michael Phillips briefly discussing how he became a producer and how he got the script for Taxi Driver. When he saw Mean Streets (1973), he knew that he wanted Scorsese to direct and Robert De Niro to star.

“God’s Lonely Man” examines the theme of loneliness in the film and profiles Schrader, his background and it informed the script.

“Influence and Appreciation: Martin Scorsese Tribute” features fellow filmmakers Roger Corman and Oliver Stone along with actor Robert De Niro and others paying tribute to the man.

“Taxi Driver Stories” includes anecdotes told by actual New York cabbies who worked in the city during the ‘70s. Some of their stories are wilder than some that are in the film.

“Making Taxi Driver” is the excellent 70 minute retrospective documentary that was included on the previous edition. It takes a fascinating, in-depth look at how the film came together with most of the major cast and crew members returning, including De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd and Albert Brooks. This is excellent doc. with loads of information.

“Travis’ New York” reflects on New York City of the ‘70s. The film’s director of photography Michael Chapman points out that now the film is a documentary of what the city looked like back then. Former New York mayor Ed Koch gives his impressions of what the city was like as well.

“Travis’ New York Locations” is a very cool featurette that compares nine locations used in the movie then with what they look like now and not surprisingly most them look very different.

There is a “Storyboard to Film Comparison” with an optional introduction by Scorsese.

Finally, there are several galleries with stills taken on location, for publicity purposes, shots of composer Bernard Herrmann’s sheets music for the score and posters.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 99%

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