Paul Schrader was going through a difficult year in 1972. At 26, the inveterate movie buff and scholar of Yasujiro Ozu and Robert Bresson had separated from his wife, lost his job as a film critic, and dropped out of his studies at the American Film Institute. . He drank and slept in theaters in Los Angeles or in his car. I was thinking of pornography and guns, two passions.
After being admitted for an ulcer and talking to a nurse, he realized that he had not spoken to another person in a month. Then he thought of a metaphor: that of a taxi, a “metal coffin” that moves at night with someone inside. Someone on the edge of society. Without being part of it or being able to escape it. Someone lonely.
Schrader forced himself to write a script about that figure for a therapeutic purpose: not to become that person. After leaving the hospital, he stayed with an ex-girlfriend and began typing on his typewriter. Inspired by the novel Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre and in the film More heart than I hate by John Ford, it took him a week to write the first draft. The script, titled Taxi Driver, featured Travis Bickle, a lonely Vietnam veteran who, faced with hopeless insomnia, decides to work as a midnight taxi driver in a degenerate New York. A possible redemption from Travis’s existential crisis, caused by his alienation, comes through two women: a political worker whom he tries to impress by murdering the candidate for whom he works and a prostitute girl whom he seeks to free from her pimp.
Some time and other drafts passed. New jobs for Schrader also passed. After making friends with director Brian De Palma after an interview, Schrader asked him for a favor: a game of chess between them. He wanted me to read his script. De Palma agreed to read Taxi Driver. It fascinated him. He also declined to direct it. He did not imagine how to do it.
Martin Scorsese met Schrader through Brian De Palma in the city of San Diego, where the New York director had gone to visit the film critic and painter Manny Farber.
The three filmmakers arranged to meet for dinner. Scorsese got lost on his way to the restaurant and arrived three hours later than planned. By then, De Palma and Schrader had already conceived a new film together, later known as Magnificent obsession.
All the members of that table were looking for something in the other. De Palma wanted Scorsese, who by then had made two unconsecrated films (the independent drama Someone knocks on my door and romantic crime Professional passengers), read the script of Taxi Driver. Scorsese wanted Schrader to adapt a version of The player Dostoevsky for him. Schrader wanted to make movies.
The script of Taxi Driver He already had his first patrons: the producer couple Julia and Michael Phillips, the latter another De Palma’s chess partner. In its sale to various studios, the reaction was always similar. Everyone seemed to like it. Nobody was convinced to finance the project.
In his own reading, Scorsese felt that he did understand a character like Travis and his feelings. He had had them and wanted to explore them. He knew loneliness, rejection, and not being able to make relationships last.
Scorsese was convinced he wanted to direct Taxi Driver. Showed him Professional passengers to Schrader, only to be met with disdain by the screenwriter, who was now on the rise after selling another script, titled The Yakuza, to the Warner Bros. studio. The Phillips, producers of the project, were also not convinced by Scorsese and his professional reel at the time.
Disheartened, the filmmaker continued with his career, not without remembering at each party he met with the Phillips or with Schrader that he was still interested in the project. In fact, it was at one of those parties that he told you about his most recent movie: Dangerous streets.
Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese met at a Christmas party in 1972, where they were introduced by De Palma. Or rather, they recognized each other, since both had shared adventures and friendships in New York as two young members of the Italian-American community.
De Niro found in Scorsese a person just as passionate about the art that united them. Scorsese, in turn, found an actor willing to participate in a collaborative creation process between actor and director, with room for improvisation.
Dangerous streets, In which De Niro plays the troublesome thug Johnny Boy, he convinced Schrader and the producers of two things. The first: Scorsese was the one to Taxi Driver. The second: Robert De Niro was to play Travis Bickle.
Like Scorsese, De Niro found that he, too, could relate to Travis and the arc he passed through. In fact, the actor had previously developed his own script about a political assassin, but he discarded it when he admired Schrader’s work.
Schrader worked on the script for Taxi Driver from 1972 to 1976. In her relationship with Scorsese and De Niro she found that they had all experienced similar sensations living in New York and Los Angeles, from the urban alienation experienced from a small dilapidated apartment to the psychological burden that a religious education had taken on. each of them as young adults.
With the creative trio established, we only had to wait. That development time meant that each of the members could stand out within their fields. Schrader had already sold the script for The Yakuza, written on Magnificent obsession and the Phillips had established themselves as producers thanks to The hit. Scorsese, for his part, directed Alicia no longer lives here, received with praise from the critics.
It was De Niro, however, who completely changed his career by winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II. Since he was filming the movie 1900 by Bernardo Bertolucci in Italy, the statuette was accepted by director Francis Ford Coppola, who told Scorsese that recognition of the actor would be a “good thing” for Taxi Driver.
Ultimately, it was Columbia Pictures producer David Begelman who decided to agree to finance the movie for $ 1.5 million. Because the genesis of the project had meant an emotional commitment in each of its promoters, the director, the screenwriter and the protagonist decided to lower their salaries compared to what they were earning in other projects. Scorsese agreed to work for $ 65,000, while Schrader did it for $ 30,000 and De Niro for $ 35,000.
De Niro and Schrader did not hesitate to embrace the paranoia that the role of Travis demanded and, in preparation for the film, they met in seedy bars and cafes throughout New York. The actor, already consecrated, would change the table if he thought someone was about to recognize him.
Schrader understood that De Niro wanted Travis to be influenced by the real figure of the screenwriter, so he decided to give him his own jeans and boots for the role. The rest of the character’s iconic image was complemented by the green Vietnam jacket and a haunting gait and smile, a product of De Niro’s mannerisms. The bearing and manifestations that the actor sought in Travis are those of a sick man, but also the result of a devastating modern society.
After returning to the United States from filming with Bertolucci, De Niro worked for ten days as a taxi driver, thanks to a forged notebook. Today the gesture is celebrated as a feat of method performance, a set of techniques that the interpreter seeks to aspire to the meticulous construction of a role. Once, while driving, he was recognized by a passenger who asked him if he was Robert De Niro, the Oscar winner. The actor responded with a joke, although to this day he does not remember it.
Forty-five years later, Scorsese, Schrader and De Niro’s masterpiece is still more relevant than ever. For several decades it laid an unprecedented foundation on the depth of critical and academic discussion that cinema can generate, and its cinematic influence continues to this day, where major studios seek to recontextualize profitable stories such as Joker under the shadow of classics like Taxi Driver.
Five years ago, in the celebration of 40 years of the premiere that Robert De Niro organized at his classic Tribeca film festival, Schrader summed up, however, another of the characteristics that Taxi Driver has known how to maintain. It is, in its unclassifiable quality, a product of its time and only of its time. “Causality plays a crucial role in movies,” explained the author at the time. “Three young people were synchronized and shared a kind of joint pathology. And they saw it. Sometimes you are just lucky. “
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Thus was born Taxi Driver