From the billowing steam emanating from one of New York City’s manhole covers emerges a yellow taxi cab, rolling through another night of ferrying NY citizens around from borough to borough. There are not many other openings in film history that establish the texture and mindset of a film in quite the same way as this shot from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. From this shot, the audience is primed to spend some time in a hellish depiction of New York, one that is crawling with all kinds of life, with the tortured mind of Travis Bickle acting as our guide.
Ever since that shot was first unveiled at the film’s premiere in the February of 1976, which fittingly took place in New York City, before going on to a famously mixed reception at that year’s Cannes Film Festival, the film has had a legacy coloured by both admiration and controversy. Despite a chorus of boos at its ending from the Cannes audience, Scorsese’s film went on to win the Palme D’or that year, as well as receiving four Oscar nominations. It is a significant film for the careers of all involved, and is a regular presence when it comes to many ‘Greatest Films Of All Time’ lists from numerous renowned publications. But it is also a film that has dealt with as much controversy as it has praise over the last 45 years.
Be it the final act shootout that pushed the envelope for graphic violence at the time, or the very questionable decision to feature a child prostitute Iris as a prominent character, portrayed by the then 12-year-old Jodie Foster, Taxi Driver is a film that has invited controversy from day one. That provocation certainly went to unintended extremes, what with a mohawked John Hinckley’s attempted assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1981, with Hinckley stating that the film was a big component of his delusion. It is a dark reputation to carry, and that assassination attempt even made Scorsese question whether or not to continue making films. But it is this provocative nature that has allowed the film to have a longevity in the minds of audiences, critics and filmmakers since its release in 1976, as once it has wormed your way into your brain, it is often hard to shift.
Full article over at Filmhounds Magazine, originally published February 8th 2020.