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Scorsese’s first masterpiece to be screened at DPAC

Brian Doxtader | Wednesday, October 5, 2005

“Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere” says Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) midway through Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976). “In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.”

This may be the key passage in a key film for everyone involved, including director Scorsese, screenwriter Paul Schrader and (especially) lead actor Robert DeNiro.

The trio, along with cinematographer Michael Chapman, would be pushed to even greater heights in 1980’s “Raging Bull,” perhaps the finest American film of all time. If “Taxi Driver” isn’t at quite the same level, it is still one of the great masterpieces of the latter half of the twentieth century and a revealing snapshot of its time.

The Browning Cinema will be screening “Taxi Driver,” Scorsese’s first masterpiece, on Saturday at 3 p.m. in the Browning Cinema, located in the DPAC.

“Taxi Driver,” more than anything, is about isolation and loneliness in the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate era. Bickle, one of the cinema’s most indelible creations, is a ticking time bomb given terrifyingly realistic life by Robert DeNiro, in one of the most intense performances of his career.

The film follows Bickle, an insomniac cab driver and Vietnam veteran, as he begins to undergo a mental breakdown. Bickle is a loner who is unable to make real connections with people, including Betsy (Cybill Sheperd), an attractive political campaign worker, and his follow taxi drivers.

The first half of the film is more atmospherically evocative than plot-oriented, though the climax and denouement, which follow Bickle as he rapidly becomes unhinged, ranks among anything filmed last century.

Based loosely on John Ford’s seminal 1956 Western “The Searchers,” the plot begins to unravel as Bickle becomes obsessed with saving a young prostitute (brilliantly played by a 12 year old Jodie Foster) from her sleazy pimp (reliable Scorsese mainstay Harvey Keitel).

“Mean Streets” (1973) might have put him on the map, but it was “Taxi Driver” that really solidified Scorsese’s reputation as a director.

He fills the film with indelible moments throughout, most notably in the famous “You talkin’ to me?” mirror scene. Like most of his films, “Taxi Driver” is discomforting and disquieting, with many difficult and shocking moments.

DeNiro is staggeringly unrelenting in what may be his most famous role. Watching him as he self-destructs is fascinating and terrifying in equal measures.

Yet, the other actors are equally up to par, especially Foster, who gives a compellingly bravura performance as the prostitute Iris.

Her Iris as both nonchalant and vulnerable, often simultaneously, making Bickle’s obsessive quest to become her savior more believable.

“Taxi Driver” was a major critical success, winning the Palme d’Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. Oddly enough, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences dropped the ball on this one, as neither Scorsese nor Schrader even received nominations. DeNiro lost the acting Oscar, which was posthumously awarded to Peter Finch for “Network.”

The big winner of the year was John G. Avildson’s “Rocky.” If Sylvester Stallone competing against DeNiro for the acting Oscar and beating out Paul Schrader for a writing nomination seems absurdly unbelievable, remember that he had not yet made such masterpieces as “Rambo: First Blood Part II” and “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.”

As for Scorsese, he went on to make “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas,” while Avildson (the director Oscar winner of the year) went on to make “The Karate Kid Part III” and “Rocky V.” Oops. Sometimes hindsight really is 20-20.

“Taxi Driver” is one of the most important American films of the 20th century and should not be missed.