Taxi Driver: Collectors Edition

A study of decay — of one man’s mind and a city’s soul — Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver remains one of the great achievements in American movies of the ’70s. Released early in 1976, it is also a time capsule of a city falling apart.

Scorsese first read Paul Schrader’s script for Taxi Driver when he had only one Hollywood film to his credit, the exploitation flick Boxcar Bertha. But after producer Michael Phillips saw a rough cut of Scorsese’s next film, Mean Streets, he decided that Scorsese and his young star, Robert De Niro, were both ready to bring Schrader’s dark vision to the screen.

And once Scorsese made Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and De Niro made The Godfather: Part II (for which he won an Oscar), they returned to New York City with Schrader to make Taxi Driver.

The film, its background, its making and its importance are all presented in thisexceptional DVD released recently in a collector’s edition.

The one special feature that has been available previously is an excellent 70-minute documentary from 1999, Making Taxi Driver. For that occasion, most of the major cast and crew members — actors De Niro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Cybill Shepherd, Albert Brooks and Peter Boyle, plus Scorsese, Schrader, Phillips, cinematographer Michael Chapman and makeup/special effects artist Dick Smith — go into illuminating detail explaining how the movie was made and their own thoughts about the production.

Foster’s remembrances of being a 12-year-old actress portraying a 12-year-old prostitute in such a heavy movie are fascinating. And the documentary shows how several scenes were improvised — including De Niro’s memorable “You talkin’ to me?” scene — despite Scorsese’s staying mostly true to Schrader’s script.

Here are some of the highlights among the DVD’s new special features.

Martin Scorsese on ‘Taxi Driver’: The director says, among other things: “It’s a film that came from the heart. It was a personal project … because there was something (about Travis Bickle’s loneliness) that touched a chord in me.”

He also notes that “personal filmmaking opens a line of communication to the audience that you don’t expect,” telling a story about being in China in 1984 when a man from Mongolia kept asking him questions about the loneliness in Taxi Driver.

Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver

Travis’ New York: Cinematographer Chapman discusses the look of Taxi Driver saying he views the movie as “a documentary of what New York looked like in 1975,” and explains how “movies are an archaeology of the recent past. … In the ’70s, New York was at its nadir. … Taxi Driver is not exactly a hymn to New York, because it’s not exactly pleasant. … We just aimed the camera and the city did the acting.”

Travis’ New York Locations: A split screen shows nine locations from the movie shot in 1975 and what they looked like in 2006.

Producing Taxi Driver: Co-producer Phillips discusses how he got involved – and how he protected the film from nervous Columbia Studio honchos.

God’s Lonely Man: Screenwriter Schrader talks about his own history and how he wrote the script, and shares his views about Travis and the movie. Driving in his “metal coffin”, Schrader says, Travis is “a man who seemed to be surrounded by people, but was completely alone. … It’s the study of a sick man.”

Influences and Appreciation: De Niro talks about working with Scorsese, filmmaker Roger Corman discusses giving the director his start in Hollywood and filmmaker Oliver Stone reminisces about being a student of Scorsese’s at NYU and points out that Taxi Driver‘s climactic violence shocked some and was considered excessive by many “but not to New Yorkers and Vietnam vets.”

Taxi Driver Stories: Real-life New York cab drivers talk about what it was like to drive taxis in the Big Apple during the mid-’70s.

Storyboard to Film Comparisons: Scorsese discusses his practice of storyboarding scenes (making rough sketches) before he shoots them; viewers can look at plenty of examples from the film.

Original Screenplay: Schrader’s complete screenplay is included, and a viewer can navigate back and forth from the movie to the screenplay.

Commentaries by Schrader and Professor Robert Kolker: Schrader offers many observations about the film, including that De Niro as Travis Bickle was wearing the clothes Schrader usually wore: jeans, boots, a Western shirt and a leather Marines jacket. Kolker, author of the book The Cinema of Loneliness, presents many insights, including some interesting comments about Travis’ racial outlook and the portrayal of race in the movie.

Galleries: Viewers can see excerpts from composer Bernard Herrmann’s score, including its famous theme; behind-the-scenes black-and-white photography of the cast and crew on location; a collection of posters and publicity stills from the movie; and a series of photos of Scorsese at work.

RATING 8 / 10