Not only was the film unique, but it was also untouchable.
“One of the things about ‘Taxi Driver’ [is] that it is just so magnificent. I actually do feel that it may be the greatest first person character study ever committed to film. I mean, I really actually can’t even think of a second, or a third or a fourth that can even come into contention with it. Scorsese, at this time of his career, had a connection to cinema and no matter how dark the material was, there was such an exuberance to filmmaking that I don’t know if anyone will ever quite have the run of films that he had in the 70s leading into the 80s.”
Even Brian De Palma mused about his respect for Scorsese.
“Truth be told, actually, my favorite director of the Movie Brats was not Scorsese. Loved him. But my favorite director of the Movie Brats was Brian de Palma. I actually met De Palma right after I’d done ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and I was very beside myself. And I was sitting there talking to him about cinema and stuff, and he talked about the friendly competition that he would enjoy with Scorsese.
He talked about making ‘Scarface’ and, you know, he’s making this epic and thinks he’s doing one of his best works ever. And during the shooting of ‘Scarface,’ ‘Raging Bull’ comes out. And so he goes and sees ‘Raging Bull’ at the theater, and it just starts off with that opening credits shot. Of that classical music playing and the big, wide shot of the ring and Jake Lamada there just bouncing in slow motion in his robe. And he [said], ‘No matter what you do, no matter how good you are, there’s always Scorsese. There’s always Scorsese challenging you right there.’ And that was Scorsese at this time.”
There’s something about Travis…
Tarantino even criticizes the criticism the film received upon its release.
“One of the criticisms that was labeled against the movie when it first came out – which was wrong, but very understandable for a lot of viewers to mistake – was that the film was racist. And actually the film is not racist at all, but it is a movie about a racist. Not only is the film about a racist, it’s [also] a first person study of a movie about a racist.
So actually, you do see the world through Travis Bickle’s eyes. And through those eyes, he makes, you know, the black pimps and the black characters on the street, they are repellant. He flinches away from them at all times. And since you are looking through his eyes, you do as well. One of things that actually could be crippling from the movie, thematically, you could even say it’s the film’s big flaw. Which, actually, by the end of the movie, doesn’t turn out to be.”
Tarantino’s love for Harvey Keitel goes way back.
“His performance is so magnificent as the pimp Sport and his performance with De Niro is of such an exquisite nature, as well as his work with Jodie Foster. Which, actually, is about the only sequence in the movie that is not told from Travis Bickle’s perspective. They’re dancing. Is of such quality and his work as Sport is so magnetic and strangely personable [laughs] that what could be a crippling contrivance isn’t. It just goes away. Not only that, you can’t imagine ‘Taxi Driver’ without Harvey Keitel. What would that be?”
Even the minor details of the film were deeply significant.
“What’s such a forward thrust of this first-person character, one of the things that’s so fascinating about it is all the other little bits that find itself in the movie that serve at completely at odds with this tone of a madman’s diary, which is more or less what we’re dealing with here. For instance, some of the favorite bits in the film, are the little scenes between Cybill Shepherd and Albert Brooks.
And when those moments happen… I think in the 70s, the first thing you thought of was ‘The Front Page’ because it has that kind of snappy pattern. But then later, it’s impossible now to watch it now all of a sudden without thinking [about] ‘Broadcast News’! As all of a sudden, showing up in Times Square, quick, witty scenes from Broadcast News’ have somehow inserted themselves into ‘Taxi Driver.’
And I think it’s obvious. For me, as a filmmaker, I’m a lover of turning on a dime, and that’s definitely a situation where that happens.”