I've finally seen Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver on the big screen. It was a markedly different experience from any other previous time I've watch it; the very first time I viewed Taxi Driver was at 3am during a Christmas break, hunched over the tiny television in my bedroom. The sound was turned down low so my parents wouldn't hear and I had to strain to catch all the dialogue. Despite these setbacks, the film still affected me and I couldn't sleep afterwards. This afternoon I went to see a screening of it in the Irish Film Institute. Watching it on a full-sized cinema screen, with Bernard Herrman's exquisite score surrounding me, every grainy night-scene blown up to gigantic proportions, is undoubtedly one of my best film experiences yet.
I can't help being envious of people who were going to the cinema in 1976, when Taxi Driver was originally released. It isn't until you see it in the cinema that you fully appreciate the force of it, the seediness, the beauty. It's a powerful piece of work; what must it have been like to go to the cinema on a Friday night in the 70s, coming to this film with no preconceptions? No idea if it would be any good, no anticipating of the "You talkin' to me?", no prior knowledge of what you were about to see? The violence and racism that sidle around the screen are even mre disquieting, the dreamlike quality magnified, the score is like a drug, drawing you in with the mixture of beauty and seediness that is the main dichotomy expressed in the film.
As I sat there in the screening room, an elderly couple to my left and a young guy in his 20s who kept taking his glasses on and off to my right, I felt a shiver of excitement ripple through the whole audience as the lights dimmed and the Columbia logo flickered onto the screen. There were no ads, no trailers and none of those rating's cards. The film simply started to play; one click and we had started, a giant puff of yellowing smoke from which emerges the taxi cab, set to Herrman's score. I got to thinking about Bernard Herrmann, how I had never really connected the man who scored this with the composer of Citizen Kane, Psycho and, perhaps my favourite music of his, the sweeping romanticism of Now, Voyager. I didn't have long to ruminate on him for long though, as the film started in earnest and I was pulled along in the tide. The cinematography, impressive enough when you're dog tired and straining to see a miniscule screen, was breathtaking when blown up. The film was grainy and flickery at times, but who cared? It only served to further the intense atmosphere.
As well as the technical and visceral aspects of seeing Taxi Driver in this way, much has to be said on the humour in this film. It's not exactly a comedy, but Travis' fumbling attempts to date Betsy are sweetly amusing and the audience responded wonderfully. The biggest laugh in the film came when Travis is buying the guns and the guy who sells them to him keeps offering more guns, more drugs "Crystal meth. I can get ya crystal meth," and finally, ludicrously, offering him a Cadillac. It felt great, to laugh along with 60 other people, at this masterpiece.
If anyone's interested in seeing Taxi Driver, whether on a repeat viewing or as a first-timer, I would strongly urge them to see it on a big screen if at all possible. As cinema goes, it's hard to beat.