The Big Issue : Edition 505
THEBIGISSUE19FEB–3MAR2016 33 he repeatedly points a gun at his own reflection, was simply described as “Travis talks to himself in the mirror” in the script. In the end, De Niro improvised the whole routine based on a stand-up comedian he’d seen. Filmed on location in New York during a sweltering summer, Taxi Driver has become a snapshot of a side of the city lost to gentrification. Sleazy late night diners, checker cabs, the porn cinemas and sex shops of Times Square; they’ve all vanished. It doesn’t hurt that the film also romanticises the sleaze that Travis is appalled by, leaning hard on film noir tropes to conjure up glamour in the dark side of the city. It may be full of crummy apartments and crumbling infrastructure, but the New York in this film still looks like an exciting place to live. Taxi Driver was a critical and commercial hit, winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes and making more than US$27 million on initial release. Its impact on pop culture was immense; even now, De Niro’s “You talkin’ to me?” bit is instantly recognisable. This success had a down side, too. John Hinckley Jr, who shot and tried to kill Ronald Reagan in 1981, claimed he did it to impress Jodie Foster, who he’d been obsessed with since Taxi Driver. As Taxi Driver has become shorthand for a depiction of psychotic behaviour and the city as urban hell, people often overlook just how funny long stretches of the film are. Travis’ failed date with Betsy, where he takes her to a porn cinema (“a lot of couples come here”) is cringe comedy before we had a name for it. When she ends up fleeing him in disgust only to jump into – of all things – a taxi, it’s hilarious. That’s why the claim that De Niro’s recent run of big screen comedies are out of character doesn’t hold up. Taxi Driver works because, early on, De Niro plays up the lighter side of Travis. He’s a misfit, but he has charm and the way he bungles through can be funny. It’s not until the film’s third act that it’s confirmed this funny guy is a deranged madman fuelled by violent fantasies. De Niro would go on to explore the anger and violence that often underlines comedy in the Scorsese-directed The King of Comedy (1982), and then later in much broader work like the Meet the Parents films. Rather than trashing his legacy, De Niro’s continuing work in comedy – even in sub-par films like Last Vegas (2013) – is more faithful to the work he did in Taxi Driver than any of his recent dramas. If you’re wondering what Travis Bickle is up to now, he’s still absorbing the seedy nightlife and acting out his violent fantasies... Only now he’s doing it in Dirty Grandpa. by Anthony Morris » Dirty Grandpa is in cinemas now. Filmed on location in New York during a sweltering summer, Taxi Driver has become a snapshot of a side of the city lost to gentrification. THE HAIRCUT IS A GIVEAWAY. “YOU TALKIN’ TO ME??” JODIE FOSTER AS IRIS, THE OBJECT OF DE NIRO’S OBSESSION.