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New York in the 70s is the city of big crowded boulevards that puts the sky close to the buildings of business men, of alleys that taste like diversity and survival, of an ethnic melting pot and dreams. In this context, the first cinema of Scorsese is born, that sees in Queens the symbol of who, moved by obsession and ambition, is up for anything to get out of his own neighbourhood and become the hero of it. Scorsese, son of this spirit and lead of the so-called Hollywood Renaissance (a time when the first American film schools started to churning out talents like never before), becomes the exponent of a radical cinema in every aspect, a cinema that cares about the last ones, the ones who have been left behind and desperately search a way up, a cinema where there’s no easy way out for the problems of its characters but search instead, to simply represent the reality, which the filmmaker calls “illusion”.
Like in Mean Streets (USA, 1973), the main characters in his stories (seeds of those goodfellas that his cinema will be able to tell about later on) are searching a way to earn a higher social position and get out of the metropolitan suburb’s poverty where they live. The red light that color the bar becomes then the equivalent of sins and infernal temptations but, on the Earth. In this time, the director is still very far from the social irony of The Wolf of Wall Street (USA, 2013) and the masterpiece Gangs of New York (USA/Italia, 2002), shot almost entirely at Cinecittà: it’s a time when dare and experiment are code words. From here the short film The Big Shave (USA, 1967) is born, one of the wildest and most clear image of protest against the war in Vietnam. The obsession for the protagonist (a soldier came back from the war) to see his face clean more and more till removing his own skin, becomes the equivalent of the necessity to clean up his conscience too.
The man skinning and the will of telling the character’s lives till the edge of society becomes the founding union of Scorsese’s cinema. The two themes will give life to Taxi Driver (USA, 1978). After the glitz of Alice doesn’t live here anymore (USA, 1974), which Ellen Burstyn won an Oscar for as Best Actress, the filmmaker from New York enters straight away into the Hollywood big circle. Taxi Driver is the consecration: not only of Scorsese’s talent, but also for the relationship between him and Robert De Niro, his ultimate favorite actor. Their collaboration will create a series of film that will mark the movie history, like The Goodfellas (USA, 1990), where the idea that being a gangster is a calling prevails, and Casinò (USA, 1995).
In Taxi Driver, the hot streets of New York do as a background for the appearance of the silent Vietnam survivor Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) whom Mohican face recalls the one of the actor from The Big Shave (USA, 1967), destined to become the icon of the new American cinema. The internalised tension of the character, articulated by the voice off, is in clearly opposition with the illegibility of his eyes. Travis is the son of a deceptive country that establishes the power of its ambition for its own sake, he is outside of this logic but he is still destined to a non-life, with nothing but thoughts buzzing in his head, the same ones of who lost every goal. The solitude of the character turns into a cage he cannot escape from, and his taxi is a look on the suburbs and on the people that live there. The maniacal photography of Michael Chapman, connected to the soundtrack directed by Bernard Hermann (already a colleague of Hitchcock in Psycho) creates the perfect atmosphere for the drama of this “death wish”.
Taxi Driver marks not only the carrier of Martin Scorsese but also a clear break between the classic and the modern cinema, which will make a radical improvement especially into the aesthetics of the seventh art.
Mattia Migliarino – Translated by Beatrice Birolo