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Heroin and Hacks: Martin Scorsese’s Memories of ‘Taxi Driver’

Heroin and Hacks: Martin Scorsese's Memories of 'Taxi Driver'

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In honor of New York magazine’s Scrapbook of Late-Night New York, the magazine’s online entertainment arm Vulture reached out to legendary director Martin Scorsese to elaborate on the New York City of his 1976 film “Taxi Driver.”

In the New York piece, comedian Colin Quinn actually referenced the film when reminiscing about a New York lone gone. “It’s easier to be nostalgic now,” Quinn said. “It’s easier to look at it now and say, “Oh, I miss “Taxi Driver.” Suddenly, we’re all like French film students who romanticize New York, even though when you lived it, it was bad. There were so many heroin dealers.”

For Vulture, Marty offered a few insights into the shooting of the drama, which starred Robert De Niro as a mentally unstable Vietnam vet named Travis Bickle who drives a taxi during some of New York’s most crime-ridden years. Here are some highlights from the interview.

They didn’t have to dress New York down.

“Apparently, the city felt like it was falling apart, there was garbage everywhere, and for someone like Travis, who’s come from the Midwest, the New York of the mid-’70s would be hell — [that] must have prompted visions of hell in his mind. But one thing I can tell you: We didn’t have to ‘dress the city to make it look hellish.”

They had to cut through the ceiling for the final shot.

“The tracking shot over the murder scene at the end, which was shot in a real apartment building: We had to go  through the ceiling to get it. It took three months to cut through the ceiling, and 20 minutes to shoot the shot.”

Passersby thought Robert De Niro was an actual taxi driver.

“I can tell you that Bob De Niro got a hack license in preparation for the movie. One of his passengers recognized him from ‘Godfather II,’ for which he’d won an Oscar, and he said, ‘Gee, I guess it’s tough to find work.'”

For one scene, De Niro directed Scorsese.

Scorsese stepped in for George Memmoli as a passenger in the back of the cab when Memmoli had an accident. “Did Bob give me direction? He gave me an action — I had to make him keep the meter running. We worked it out between us.”

The New York of “Taxi Driver” doesn’t exist anymore, but Scorsese didn’t intend to make a time capsule.

“Really, you could [say the same] about any picture made on-location in New York during any era. Now, for instance. Will all these clean, scrubbed surfaces stay so clean and scrubbed? Will all these glass towers be standing in 100 years? Will Manhattan be as becalmed and kind of domesticated as it is now in 20 years? Fifty years? I don’t think we had a consciousness of this… while we were shooting.”

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