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An Oral History Of 'Taxi Driver' 40 Years On

An Oral History Of 'Taxi Driver' 40 Years On

There are very few directors with a back catalogue as strong as Martin Scorsese's. one of the movies that makes up part of that catalogue is of course Taxi Driver. It was set in 1970s New York City and followed the story of Travis Bickle. A taxi driver struggling to cope with life after Vietnam.

Boasting a cast consisting of Robert De Niro, a young Jodie Foster and Harvey Keitel, it was a near perfect psychological thriller. Angsty, tense, claustrophobic and utterly captivating.

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Later this month the cast and crew will reunite at the Tribeca Film Festival to discuss the movie on a special panel.

This week though, THR published an interesting oral history which goes behind the scene of the movie and also looks at the era that birthed the movie in general.

They spoke to almost everyone behind the seminal piece of 70s cinema and this is what they had to say (all quotes originally appeared on THR):

Paul Schrader (screenwriter)- I had a series of things falling apart, a breakdown of my marriage, a dispute with the AFI, I lost my reviewing job. I didn't have any money and I took to drifting, more or less living in my car, drinking a lot, fantasizing. The Pussycat Theater in L.A. would be open all night long, and I'd go there to sleep. Between the drinking and the morbid thinking and the pornography, I went to the emergency room with a bleeding ulcer. I was about 27, and when I was in the hospital, I realized I hadn't spoken to anyone in almost a month. So that's when the metaphor of the taxi cab occurred to me - this metal coffin that moves through the city with this kid trapped in it who seems to be in the middle of society but is in fact all alone. I knew if I didn't write about this character I was going to start to become him - if I hadn't already. So after I got out of the hospital, I crashed at an ex-girlfriend's place, and I just wrote continuously. The first draft was maybe 60 pages, and I started the next draft immediately, and it took less than two weeks. I sent it to a couple of friends in L.A., but basically there was no one to show it to [until a few years later]. I was interviewing Brian De Palma, and we sort of hit it off, and I said, "You know, I wrote a script," and he said, "OK, I'll read it."

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Martin Scorsese (director)- Brian De Palma gave me the script. I reacted very viscerally, almost mystically to it and its tone and the struggle of the character. But I was still trying to get them to take me seriously as a filmmaker. I'd done a low-budget independent film called Who's That Knocking [at My Door] and an exploitation film for Roger Corman called Boxcar Bertha. I liked Julia a lot, but she kept pushing me away, dismissive, but funny. She'd just tell me, "Come around again when you've done something more than Boxcar Bertha."

Robert De Niro (Travis Bickle)- We all liked the script a lot and wanted to do it and were committed to it. I'd met with Marty in Cannes while I was shooting 1900, and we went over the script. And I worked with some guys on a military base in Northern Italy on the accent. Then I flew back to New York and started driving a cab and getting ready to shoot.

Jodie Foster (Iris)- I had done Alice [with Scorsese]. He called my mom about the part, and she thought he was crazy. But I went in to meet him for an interview. My mom thought, with my school uniform on, there was no way he'd think I was right for it. But he said yes, and she trusted him.

You can check out the full conversation between the cast and crew over on THR right now.

Words by Matthew Cooper

Lead Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

Topics: Taxi Driver, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Movie

Matthew Cooper

Follow me on Twitter @c00pasaurus for sad short stories about attractive strangers I never spoke to on public transport.