This year marks the 40th anniversary of Martin Scorsese's controversial 1976 classic Taxi Driver, and to celebrate the date, a limited number of screenings will be held in NYC. Scorsese's riveting story of an unstable Vietnam War veteran who takes it upon himself to fight crime and degradation in the city has received a stunning 4K restoration and will also be available on Blu-ray on November 8th. In honor of this momentous anniversary, we have decided to dive into Taxi Driver and explore the trivia behind the production of one of Scorsese's masterpieces.
Check out the trailer for the 40th anniversary version of Taxi Driver:
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1. The Infamous Line 'You Talkin' To me!?' Was Inspired By Bruce Springsteen
Much to the chagrin of scriptwriter Paul Schrader, the most iconic line in Taxi Driver was improvised by Robert De Niro. Shortly before shooting commenced, the actor went to see Springsteen play in New York and when a member of the audience called Bruce's name, The Boss responded with mock humility, "You talking to me!?" De Niro was so captivated by his delivery that he pinched the line for Travis Bickle's monologue.
2. Scorsese's Incredible Cameo
One of Bickle's many passengers is a furious middle aged man who asks the driver to park next to his apartment while he contemplates how he'd dispatch of his wife and her lover. This part was initially destined for George Memmoli, who starred in Mean Streets, but Scorsese had to step in when Memmoli injured his back on the set of another film.
Watch Scorsese's surprising turn at acting below:
3. Everybody Took A Pay Cut To Make The Film
Between signing on to do the project for $35,000 and shooting it, De Niro snagged the Oscar for his performance in Godfather Part II. The producers were shaking their heads, worried the actor would ask for a lot more, but De Niro, Cybil Shepard and screenwriter Paul Schrader agreed to take a fraction of what they could have asked for to keep the budget under $1.8 million.
4. Scorsese Avoided An X-Rating By Making The Blood Look Brown Instead Of Red
While editors were busy cutting Taxi Driver, Scorsese noticed how vivid the red blood was and knew he would have a hard time getting it past the censor board. As a result, he decided to desaturated the final bloody scenes to make them similar to crime scene photos in black-and-white newspapers.
5. Scorsese Considers Taxi Driver To Be A Feminist Film
In an interview with legendary film critic Roger Ebert, Scorsese once described Taxi Driver as his "most feminist film." Ostensibly, the film could be seen as the opposite, with the misogynistic anti-hero trying to control women, but Scorsese revealed his intention of showing what happens when machismo takes over:
"The better man is the man who can kill you. This [movie] shows that kind of thinking, shows the kinds of problems some men have, bouncing back and forth between [their perception of women as] goddesses and whores.”
6. Jeff Bridges Could Have Been Travis Bickle
Before Robert De Niro was signed up to play Bickle, Columbia Pictures had a few other names in mind. Most notably, the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges who was starting to make a name for himself in Hollywood. Imagine how different the film would have been with the Big Lebowski cleaning up the streets!
7. Jodie Foster Was Only 12 When She Played Iris, The Child Prostitute
Scorsese got into a lot of hot water for casting 12-year-old Jodie Foster in the role of Iris, the child prostitute. The producers had to employ a welfare worker to confirm that Foster was mature enough for the role, but also to check the rushes every day to make sure she wasn't on the set when De Niro swore. The producers also employed a body double to take her place for the scenes that were more sexually explicit and violent.
8. Robert De Niro Drove A Cab For A Month To Prepare For The Role
At the height of his career, De Niro was known for committing to his roles using the Stanislavski "method" technique. The technique required actors to rely on their own experiences and memories to build the character. In order to prepare for Taxi Driver, De Niro worked 15-hour days as a cab driver in NYC for a month. He wanted to understand the job, the loneliness, and how people look down on you as a cab driver.
9. Harvey Keitel Chose To Take A Lesser Role, But Stole The Scene Anyway
Scorsese was intent on casting Mean Streets star Harvey Keitel as the campaign worker, Tom, who would try and come between Bickle and Betsy. The rebellious actor had other plans and decided to take the much smaller part of the pimp, Matthew. Keitel found a real pimp on his street and rehearsed intensely for weeks with him one-on-one. Scorsese was so impressed he gave the character more screen-time than Schrader had originally written.
Watch Keitel steal the scene as Matthew the pimp below:
10. The Man Responsible For The Film's Incredible Soundtrack Died Immediately After Completing The Score
Scorsese had to use all his guile and cunning to get legendary composer Bernard Herrmann to score Taxi Driver. The composer had been responsible for some of the biggest classics including Citizen Kane, Psycho, Cape Fear, North by Northwest and dozens of others. Herrmann wrote and conducted the recording sessions himself but tragically passed away hours after completing the score. He was nominated for an Oscar posthumously.
Have a listen to a sample of the score below:
Do you think they'll ever make a remake of Taxi Driver or are some films impossible to reboot?
(Source: Interview with Roger Ebert)