See a classic with new eyes.
Sony Pictures have restored Taxi Driver up to a 4K standard viewing experience with the ‘guidance’ of cinematographer Michael Chapman and Scorsese himself. Up-scaling from the original negatives doesn’t lose any of that New York grime of the hazy VHS experience from 40 years ago, the period is still unforgettable given the film’s saturation in the‘70s, but it raises the level of technology to compliment a piece that is self-evidently already artistically poignant.
The loneliness and isolationism of De Niro’s Travis Bickle is all too relevant today. Honourably discharged from the Marines following Vietnam he is left lonely, traumatised and lacking direction. He turns inward, finding it hard to form relationships in a city he finds increasingly alienating. The faceless labour of the ‘taxi driver’ serves as his escape for a short time, but only emphasises the lack of recognition he receives as a person. He is driven back to what he knows best; pardon the pun, finding a violent outlet for a twisted, but essentially good person to express himself. It could easily have been in the hero category when the AFI voted him as the 30th greatest film villain of all time.
“One of the things to me was just the irony at the end, he is back driving a cab, celebrated, which is kind of relevant in some way today too,” De Niro said last year at the Sarajevo Film Festival. His vigilante justice seemed to him, a small way of cleaning his city of the filth he saw around him. It’s a tradition stretching back to the comics of the ‘30s. Is Batman or Superman a hero or a villain? In the inter-war years it was a struggle which returned in the ‘60s, in a post-Cold War era with characters such as Daredevil. Who knows what kind of artistic symbol might emerge in 2017 to represent the anxieties of our times?
Bickle’s troubles are individual, but represent greater and more general social pressures. His disconnectedness is depressive and the attempts he makes to break out of his situation fail and make things worse. Frustrations force him to seek out extremist measures, an idea which also feels somehow particularly relevant at the moment.
This reissue features as one of the highlights of the BFI Martin Scorsese season, running throughout January and February.
Review by George Meixner
Showings of this 4K version are available at BFI Southbank 10-28th February and very limited UK-wide cinema listings via Park Circus.