Now what paul schrader return to the screens with The master gardener it’s time to remember that this standard-bearer of the New Hollywood is today in better shape than ever in a long time. His movie with Joel Edgerton is the third part of your call ‘Trilogy of trades’, completed by The priest (with Ethan Hawke) and the card counter (with Oscar Isaac). A series of films that explore, as usual by its author, the darker side of the United States through characters on the edge.
Those accustomed to schraderism recalcitrant know, yes, that the director and screenwriter has spent a long time taking advantage of apparently banal occupations to discover the abysses of the postmodern condition. In his filmography we find titles about male prostitution (American Gigolo) but also about factory workers (Blue Collar), ambulance drivers (To the limit)… and taxi drivers. Especially about a particular taxi driver.
Because, in English, “taxi driver” is Taxi Driver. This is the title of the film with which Schrader turned the world of cinema upside down in 1976 together with two exceptional accomplices: Martin Scorsese behind the camera, and robert deniro giving life to the main character.
A story of suffocating sleaze, a city on the verge of economic and social ruin, an exceptional cast that also included Cybyll Shepherd, Harvey Keitel and Jodie Foster (playing a prostituted girl), plus the soundtrack of a Bernard Herman (Psychosis) who died right after completing it. Drawing on those factors, the trio reminded us that New York, when viewed through a windshield, looks a lot like hell.
Paul Schrader: the Calvinist screenwriter
The biographies of Paul Schrader (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1946) usually begin with a surprising fact: one of the most acclaimed screenwriters in history did not enter a cinema until he was 17 years old. And he did it secretly, moreover, to see The Nutty Professor: the fact that the masterful comedy of Jerry Lewis left him indifferent gives many clues about the character of the subject, as well as about his future work.
Because Schrader had grown up in a wealthy family determined, because of his Calvinist faith, to keep his offspring from temptation. Despite the numerous torments that his religiosity would cause him in the future, the filmmaker appreciates this rigidity, assuring that it has led him to enjoy cinema in purely intellectual and non-sentimental terms.
Despite an early religious vocation, Schrader ended up turning out to be a heck of a bandarra, surrounded by satanic wiles in the form of firearms, cocaine and alcohol. And, although his contact with the seventh art was late, he ended up dedicating himself to it with devotion, albeit from the side of criticism: his most acclaimed work as a writer was The transcendental style in the cinema (1972), essay where he praised the works of Yasujiro Ozu, Robert Bresson and Carl Theodor Dreyer as models of artistic rigor.
Encouraged by the critic Pauline Kael, Schrader decided to start working as a screenwriter. His first released work was Yakuza (1974), written with Robert Towne (Chinatown) and based on an idea of his brother Leonard Schrader. Directed by sydney pollack and with robert mitchum As the protagonist, the film triumphed by attracting the public with a subject as unknown at the time in the West as Japanese organized crime.
To say that success was bad for Paul Schrader is an understatement. The brand new screenwriter went everywhere armed with a .38 revolver, and he liked to dress a crown of thorns found in an antique shop when he sat down at his typewriter to put together his new script. A story loosely inspired by Pickpocket, of his beloved Bresson, and whose protagonist spent hours behind the wheel of a taxi. Or, in Schrader’s own words, of “a metal coffin”.
Martin Scorsese: the ambitious director
At this point, ‘Marty’ needs no introduction. Somewhat older than Schrader (he was born in 1942) and more Italian-American than spaghetti and meatballs, the filmmaker had already signed the extremely indie Who is knocking my door? (1967), the B-series Berta’s train (1972), the revolutionary noir bad streets (1973) and Alice doesn’t live here anymore (1974), a drama thanks to which Ellen Burstyn he had won an Oscar. Scorsese was, in short, a director to be reckoned with.
By then, though he had left New York for glory in Los Angeles, ‘Marty’ was well aware of the sorry state his hometown was in. Deindustrialization and its consequences, in the form of unemployment and crime, had brought the ‘Big Apple’ to a near apocalyptic state, to the point that the government of the president Gerald Ford refused a bailout when New York filed for bankruptcy in 1975.
With such a panorama, the city on the Hudson was the perfect setting for a story like the one Schrader wanted to tell, and for its protagonist. We talk about Travis Bickle, a Vietnam veteran whose job as a night taxi driver forces him to travel through the most dangerous neighborhoods of the city. Faced day in and day out with the worst of humanity, and with an already precarious state of mind, Travis is a bomb waiting to go off. What actor would be capable of giving life to such a specimen?
Robert De Niro: The Young Giant
Like Scorsese and Schrader, the De Niro who arrived on the set of Taxi Driver it was more than a promise. In fact, he was the most recognizable name of the trio: he had gone through indie cinema with Brian DePalma, had shot with prestigious directors (Bernardo Bertolucci signed him for nine hundred after seeing him in bad streets) and had won an Oscar for his portrayal of the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather II.
And yet, Paul Schrader did not see him qualified to play Travis Bickle. The screenwriter had written the role based on his own experiences in New York, when he fought insomnia by wandering the city and was more in than out of the porn theaters in Times Square. So, on the advice of Pauline Kael, he rejected De Niro in favor of a Dustin Hoffmann that he was not at all for the work.
Things changed with the first conversation between writer and performer. During the talk, De Niro confessed that sometimes he would sit in the UN building and fantasize about shooting diplomats. Encouraged by this cocktail of homicidal ideas and firearms, Schrader replied: “That gun was your talent, the talent you carried on your back. If you ever had a chance to take it out and shoot people, everyone would realize what was important. what were you”.
That De Niro was fully involved in the film is proven by facts such as not using the weight of his Oscar to raise his cachet: the actor took $35,000 for playing Travis, helping to keep Taxi Driver as a low budget project. Also, a lot of the clothes he’s wearing in the pictures of him were borrowed from Paul Schrader: I’m sure that means something…
New York: The Rotten City
filming of Taxi Driver in the summer of 1975 It was less apocalyptic than expected, although, despite everything, it had its complications. For example, that the streets were an oven, or the fact that a Scorsese acquaintance named Steven Spielberg was sweeping the box office with Shark. That same Spielberg whom the producers threatened to put in charge of the production if ‘Marty’ got out of hand.
The fact that Scorsese abandoned his partner, the screenwriter Sandy Weintraub, by the journalist Julia Cameron (with whom he would end up marrying the following year and divorcing in 1977) did not make things any easier either. “She was a two-gram-a-day cocaine addict,” an anonymous source quoted by Peter Biskind. But, as the cinematographer adds michael chapman, ‘Marty’ did not need help for his trip to the abyss: “How do you push someone who has already jumped?”
The one who suffered the worst, in any case, was poor Cybill Shepherd: her partner at the time, Peter Bogdanovich, I had counted on her daisy miller and finally love two tremendous box office flops that had earned him a reputation as a jinx and forced him to lower his cachet. To top it off, De Niro was rude to her throughout filming, calling her “the princess” and constantly putting her down.
‘Bobby’ reserved his chivalry to work with Jodie Foster, the then ‘Disney girl’ who would shock the world in the role of Iris, a teenage prostitute whose degradation precipitates Travis’s descent into madness. In addition to literary sources such as the sonia of Crime and Punishment, the character was based on Schrader and Scorsese’s conversations with a young woman in similar conditions to the one the screenwriter had met in a hotel.
Another high point of the filming of Taxi Driver was the appearance of ‘Little Stevie’ Prince, a counting bird that served as the director’s bodyguard and that we can see in the role of Easy Andy, the dealer who supplies Travis with an arsenal of small arms. Scorsese was so fascinated by the individual that he made him the protagonist of his documentary american boy in 1978.
The movie: triumph and scandal
After having loaded with carts and wagons to move forward Taxi Driver without interference (“Agree, me? Before I go back to do series B with Roger Corman”), Scorsese found that his film divided critics, with roger bert coming up and Leonard Matlin calling her “ugly and irredeemable”. The film received a host of awards, including the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but its four Oscar nominations came to nothing against rocky and All the president’s men.
Despite this division of opinion, and the problems with censorship, Taxi Driver It didn’t take long for it to become a cult film. The nascent punk movement took good note of his images, to the point of copying De Niro’s look in the scenes in which he appears with hair shaved like a crest. If there were movie characters capable of making that of “not future” , Travis was at the top of the list.
But the film’s most surprising impact was to come in 1981, when John Hinckley Jr. tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan. Suffering from schizophrenia and obsessed with Jodie Foster, Hinckley claimed to have been inspired by Taxi Driver for his attack. And in doing so, he agreed with the film’s original tagline: “In every corner there is a nobody who dreams of being someone.”
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