Genre Film Knight
3 May 1995
Taxi Driver as Radicalized Film Noir
In his film Taxi Driver, Martin Scorcese presents a world where characters are subsumed in the urban landscape, vertical planes obscure the horizon, and hazy lights reflect off streets perpet ually slick with rain. Scorcese combines realistic settings with expressionist cinematography to construct a stylized vision of meaninglessness, in which a psychopathic protagonist moves from street to street without direction, finding no release for the nameless anxiety he feels for the city. Taxi Driver, with its unconventional (anti)hero, Travis Bickle, lack of substantive plot, and mix of documentary and abstract photography, defies traditional efforts to place it in a specific genre. It is a sort of detective film without a detective; a gangster film with only secondrate, rarely seen mafia figures; a socialproblem film with society itself as the problem. The themes of Taxi Driver—corruption, urban oppression, violence, nostalgia—are so large and encompassing, diagetically and in the realworld, they expand beyond the barriers of a single genre. Scorcese makes few attempts to particularize these themes to Travis’s surroundings, instead requiring the audience to harbor the same vague sense of general filth that plagues his protagonist. Despite its apparent rejection of generic convention, Taxi Driver is not without stylistic and thematic precedent. Film noir, a style of film dominant roughly from the earlyforties to latefifties, also features expressionist photography that captures morally and psychologically unstable protagonists making their way through dark and corrupt cities. Generally, these films’ heroes were rough, “hardboiled” detectives/investigators torn from the pages of dime novels. As the style of film noir evolved, “Hollywood lighting grew darker, characters more corrupts, themes more...
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