"Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man."
And for my last blog post, I've chosen to watch Taxi Driver, starring another acting great, Robert De Niro. Not only that, but this movie was directed by Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, The Departed, Raging Bull). So I have high hopes.
While De Niro is the main character and is highly regarded for this role, a shorter onscreen appearance is affecting as well. Jodie Foster's role (which I will describe later) required her to meet with a child-welfare worker, and Foster wasn't allowed on set when certain scenes were being filmed. And yet, Foster's acting was uncomfortably adult. This is one of those instances where an actor/actress's performance is impressive because of the sheer nature of the role.
To look back on this whole project, I'm thankful that I chose to watch movies. It served as a de-stresser, because I could sit down and just enjoy a movie for about 2 hours. And the fact that I had to do this as a project made me a more attentive movie watcher as well. When it came time to review the movie in a blog post, I was able to think about why I did or didn't like the movie, and relate it to my own personal experiences. I actually discovered some things about myself through what characters I related to and what genres I had an affinity for.
Click HERE for Taxi Driver Summary
Robert De Niro said, "One of the things about acting is it allows you to live other people's lives without having to pay the price." And this applies perfectly to his role in Taxi Driver. Because Travis Bickle is an unsettling mix of hero and villain, crazy and charitable, laid back and obsessive.
Oh yeah, this movie's pretty violent too.
Travis, a former U.S. Marine, becomes a Manhattan taxi driver working the night shift because he's lonely, and he can't sleep at night. The transitions of the film are short, dream-like clips of his nighttime drives, with jazz sounding music playing over the clips. Travis's initial endeavor seems normal enough. He constantly sees a beautiful woman named Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), and wants to ask her out. And he does just that, by marching into her place of work (a campaign office for presidential candidate Charles Palantine) and asking her out on a date that same day. A little creepy, but still okay. ish. While on the date, Travis says he doesn't like Betsy's co-worker. Okay, already being a bit controlling but still within normal circumstances. Then, on their next date, Travis takes Betsy to see a Swedish sex education film. And around this point is when it becomes glaringly obvious that Travis Bickle is just a bittt off. He genuinely doesn't understand why Betsy is upset, and he gets upset when Betsy doesn't return any of his calls. We see Travis buy guns and create ways to conceal his weapons. We see him at the shooting range/practicing combat, and delivering that iconic "You talkin to me?" line to a mirror. Travis had a run in earlier in the movie with a child prostitute named Iris, played by Jodie Foster. She got into his cab, only to be dragged away by a man named Matthew "Sport" Higgins (who turns out to be her boyfriend [?] and pimp). Travis buys 15 minutes with Iris, but he only tries to convince her that she should stop doing what she's doing and go back home. So at least he's not a complete creep right? Travis then has an awkward conversation with a secret service agent at one of Palantine's rallies, and consequently tries to shoot Palantine at the next rally, only to be seen by the secret service men and chased after. Travis gets away and later goes to kill some a mobster, Sport, and a bouncer. Travis is severely injured from the fight. Iris witnesses the violence, and is shown cowering. In a sort of epilogue, we hear a letter from Iris's parents, and the audience learns she is back home with her family, Travis survived his multiple wounds and is regarded as a hero, and he's still working as a taxi driver.
The whole movie, I didn't know how to feel about Travis. One second he would do something insane and wrong, seemingly without reason, and then he would do something equally as crazy but actually pretty cool the next second. His motives are blurred, and his state of mind is obviously unstable. He's pretty much a psychopath. His mental state declines throughout the movie, and the scenes get creepier and more violent to reflect that. Travis is often silent, and his silence is never overdone or awkward. It's the perfect amount of eerie and intimidating. Even though Travis Bickle is like this, I still connected to his character. He made me constantly uneasy, but I tried to sympathize with him. I think a lot of this is because of all the heart and effort De Niro put into the role. He made it so convincing that Bickle wasn't just a character on a screen, he was a real person that had real problems and feelings. Many say that this is De NIro's defining role, and it's hard to argue with that.
"Were Mr. De Niro less an actor, the character [Travis Bickle] would be a sideshow freak. The screenplay, of course, gives him plenty to work with. Until the final sequences, Taxi Driver has a kind of manic aimlessness that is a direct reflection of Travis's mind, capable of spurts of common sense and discipline that are isolated in his general confusion." - Vincent Canby
Travis is a lonely guy, aimlessly spurting through life.
Travis's short lived romance with Betsy.
Jodie Foster as Iris.
Travis talking to himself in the mirror, practicing for some sort of imaginary confrontation.
The night time driving scenes set the tone of the movie. They also looked really cool.
The aftermath of the final gory scene.
"I'm like cat here, a no-name slob. We belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us. We don't even belong to each other."
For the last two blog posts, my focus is going to be on actors and actresses and their performances. While researching some of the best actors and actresses of all time, I encountered a few people I've already watched in some of the movies from this project, like James Stewart (Vertigo), Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca), and Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca).
When you act, you're essentially pretending to be someone else. And in that sense, actors and actresses are able to let go of inhibitions and play someone that might be completely different from them. They're able to take risks and experience things through another person's eyes. However, actors/actresses also say that acting is completely revolved around one's own life as well. The more vulnerable and exposed you are, the more genuine your acting becomes. Meaning, you should use your own insecurities, personality traits, and experiences to help portray a character.
I wanted to watch a movie with a prominent actress first, so I was deciding between watching a Meryl Streep movie or an Audrey Hepburn movie. I was in the mood for a bit of a happier film so Sophie's Choice wasn't really going to cut it. I decided to watch Breakfast at Tiffany's, which is another one of those movies that has affected our culture so much that you "have to watch it."
Click HERE for Breakfast at Tiffany's Summary
Yup, I had my reservations before watching this one as well. I had heard about the yellow face issue (which we'll get into a bit later), and the sheer exposure I've had to references to this movie throughout my life made me a little skeptical. I was afraid the movie wouldn't live up to it's name and that it would be pretty shallow.
And while there are some things I could complain about in the movie, I'm still a sucker for a romantic comedy.
So yeah, I liked it. The opening sequence where Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) gets out of a yellow taxi, and eats a pastry with a coffee while staring at the window of the Tiffany & Co. Jewelry Store was so charming to me. Maybe it was the tune of "Moon River" playing in the background, or the elegant and timeless style of Golightly's little black dress, but I was already interested. When Paul Varjak (George Peppard) introduces himself to Holly, she invites him into her home and treats him like someone she's known forever. She describes her visits to a man in Sing Sing prison, named Sally Tomato. The whole conversation and scene already shows you what kind of a person Holly is, and Paul seems just as confused and captivated as the audience is. The audience then learns about Paul through Holly, when Holly sees "2E" (Patricia Neal) leaving a sleeping Paul money, then kissing him on the head. Paul is a struggling writer who has written one published book called Nine Lives. Paul needs the money. Holly nicknames Paul "Fred", after her brother who's in the army. The character of Fred Golightly is used as a way to make Holly seem more human. Amongst all of her ambition, she still cares the most about her brother. I was conflicted about whether I liked Holly Golightly or not. A basic description of her would be an ambitious and seemingly shallow "socialite". That description doesn't sound promising at all, but when you're introduced to her character, something about Holly makes her likable. Through all the times she exhibits her shallow attempts for money/power, I still rooted for her. Paul seems to believe in her as well, and always tries to make things right with her.
Before I go any further, I wanted to talk about the questionable and problematic parts of the movie. The first thing is obviously Mickey Rooney's yellowface portryal of the character Mr. Yunioshi. I cringed whenever Mr. Yunioshi had a scene. Not only is it bad that they hired a White man to play the role of an Asian man, but it's even worse that the character Mr. Yunioshi is filled to the brim with Asian stereotypes, and is reduced to the laughing stock of the movie. Comic relief is one thing, but Mr. Yunioshi is another. I didn't laugh at any of the scenes with Mr. Yunioshi in it. And while many Asian-Americans have boycotted this movie specifically for the yellow face aspect of it, I didn't let it stop me from watching it. It made me see how even in the context of a decent movie, yellowface/blackface/brownface/redface or any type of offensive racial stereotyping like that is distasteful and horrible. Another thing I want to get out of the way is Holly a.k.a Lula Mae's weird marriage to the much older Doc Golightly. She was married to him at age 13/14, and fled from their home when she was 15. Paul seems a little disturbed, but Holly/Lula Mae seems to be completely fine with Doc when he comes to New York to bring her back. Her reasoning for not going back with him is that she wants to follow her dreams. But in my mind, I was thinking "Oh, it's not because he's a creepy dude DECADES OLDER THAN YOU?!?". The whole thing with Doc didn't last long, and seemed to be there just to set an origin story for Holly. But it still weirded me out. Now, let's talk about Holly's character itself. She is widely labeled a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (remember that tired trope?). And yeah, quite honestly, she has all the elements of one. You could argue that she has her own purpose in life because of her dreams for her and her brother Fred, but those are thrown to the side when they kill off Fred in the movie. Holly dresses eccentrically, but not too eccentrically, she's kind of a drunkard (but of course still has to look cute when she's absolutely hammered), she can be painfully honest, she sings to herself and plays an instrument, and she's the object of a kind of bland male character's affections. Oh, and that male character literally said "You belong to me" to her. Welp.
And yet, despite all of this, I still enjoyed this movie. I think it's interesting how I was so painfully aware of all the outdated ideals in it, but I was able to really be invested in the characters and their story. Maybe it's a weird society thing. Maybe it's the whole concept of a developing romance, complicated by conflicting feelings on either side. Maybe it's just the genre of romantic comedies. Whatever makes this movie so darn likable, it's something that's still in movies today.
"The script is not altogether neat. No justification or explanation is ever made of why Peppard is being kept by a wealthy lady, except that he is a writer and writers, presumably, get involved in things like that. Miss Hepburn is responsible to a great degree for the credibility of her complex character and gives a winning portrayal. Peppard virtually overcomes the script deficiencies in his character, because he is an exceptionally virile young leading man who achieves the aura of manliness without sweat."- The Hollywood Reporter
The opening scene of the movie.
One of the standout roles in the movie wasn't even played by a human: "cat" was Holly's nameless companion.
A drunk Holly describes her intentions to Paul.
I really liked this scene, where Paul and Holly are attempting to steal something cheap from the store. It's silly and sweet.
Yikes. Let's just say you mean this in the most romantic and least offensive way possible, okay Paul?
Considering all the things I've complained about, I can't lie that I smiled like an idiot at this ending scene.
Moon River, performed by Audrey Hepburn.
This should go without saying.
Kelby Custodio, Junior at Pacifica High School.