If there’s one thing we know about Quentin Tarantino, it’s that he’s a Scorcese’s superfan. He has spoken many times about the influence of Scorcese on his own filmmaking and on the world of cinema more generally. So, it comes as no surprise that, back in 2009, when Tarantino was invited to do a takeover of Sky Movies, Martin Scorsese’s 1976 neo-noir film Taxi Driver was one of the first Tarantino chose to discuss.
Having just released Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino took the time to sit down and share his thoughts on Scorcese’s classic film, one which has come to be seen as a defining work of ’70s cinema. It is a film that allows its audience access into the mind of a particularly troubled young man, and, for Tarantino, it does so with unparalleled success.
“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,” Tarantino begins, before going on to describe his meeting with the director with Brian de Palma.
Tarantino had just finished Reservoir Dogs and sat down with De Palma, who is his favourite director of the ‘movie brats’ generation. The pair were discussing cinema when De Palma began talking about the friendly rivalry between himself and Scorcese throughout the ’70s and ’80s: “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 theatre, 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.”
“One of the things about Taxi Driver,” Tarantino continues, “which is just so amazing, is not only is it this wonderful character study of this – to put it lightly – troubled individual… What’s so fascinating about the character study is it truly puts you in the point of view of this man. If you’ve ever been lonely and lived in a ghetto area, it’s easy to feel Travis Bickle’s kind of feelings of ‘all alone me’ versus ‘my environment.’ And the movie actually encourages that kind of empathy with a very questionable character. You see through his eyes so strongly.”
Bur, as Tarantino notes, the film didn’t escape criticism on its release: “One of the criticisms that were levied 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 the things that actually could be crippling from the movie, by the end, doesn’t turn out to be,” Tarantino concludes.
Undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made, if Quentin Tarantino delivers this kind of positive response to a movie there’s a good chance you need to watch it immediately.