A to Z of Films Meme (T)

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T

Taxi Driver

Mar­tin Scorsese’s Taxi Dri­ver is a hell that we don’t want to see, but some of us live in. Travis Bick­le, a Viet­nam vet­er­an, taxi dri­ver, is a des­per­ate alien­at­ed man who tries to make con­tact but fails repeat­ed­ly. After a series of failed attempts to con­nect, he is so lone­ly that he asks him­self in the mir­ror, “Who you talkin’ to?”

This pow­er­ful lone­li­ness is the epi­cen­ter of the hav­oc Travis cre­ates, and though his char­ac­ter is one of the strangest of all movie heroes, many peo­ple con­nect with him because they have expe­ri­enced some­thing like that in their lives.Taxi Driver

When a girl rejects him, the cam­era dol­lies away to an emp­ty hall­way. It is as if the girl’s rejec­tion is unbear­able, but lat­er we are shown the hor­ror of vio­lence in excru­ci­at­ing detail. The camera’s avoid­ance of the rejec­tion is the most impor­tant shot accord­ing to Scors­ese. He once said “Cin­e­ma is a mat­ter of what’s in the frame and what’s out”, but in this case, he keeps an impor­tant thing out of the frame.

Vary­ing speeds of slow motion are used dra­mat­i­cal­ly, either while observ­ing faces in close-up or to increase aware­ness of Travis’s point of view. For exam­ple, the shots of the taxi are at nor­mal speed, but what Travis observes on the street from inside it are in slow motion. Scors­ese takes us inside the mind of Travis with­out using dia­log.

See Thurman’s excel­lent analy­sis of how Scors­ese pays homage via allu­sions in Taxi Dri­ver.

Taxi Dri­ver is great because it is not a super­fi­cial, vio­lent, por­trait of a sociopath. It actu­al­ly takes us inside the mind and char­ac­ter of such alien­at­ed peo­ple, help­ing us under­stand them bet­ter. If you look at Mar­tin Scors­ese, he looks so gen­tle that it seems he won’t even hurt a fly. He grew up in an Ital­ian-Amer­i­can neigh­bor­hood with vio­lence all around him, and says he just want­ed to be a parish priest. Those child­hood days under­lie many of his films, and it is impor­tant to under­stand Taxi Dri­ver in the con­text of his own words:

Now more than ever we need to talk to each oth­er, to lis­ten to each oth­er and under­stand how we see the world, and cin­e­ma is the best medi­um for doing this.

Runner Up

Titanic

Extrav­a­gant, spec­tac­u­lar, and dra­mat­ic, Titan­ic is the most-vot­ed for movie that is not in the IMDB Top 250 charts. Clear­ly, there are those who like it and those who don’t. Here are some rea­sons why I like it:

TitanicI admire Cameron. He took great ridicule and crit­i­cism in his stride for mak­ing the costli­est and most delayed motion pic­ture, while work­ing as a one-man army as pro­duc­er, direc­tor, writer, and edi­tor. Heck, he even drew the sketch­es of the artist hero, Jack! It is a reach of great­ness against all odds.

Atten­tion to detail in an epic of this size is ‘beyond fanat­i­cal’ as the NYT puts it. One of the longest Triv­ia sec­tion in the IMDB details the extra­or­di­nary extent to which Cameron went to make the movie seem real. Learn­ing about the metic­u­lous lev­el of detail will make you real­ize that you need mul­ti­ple view­ings to appre­ci­ate it.

The char­ac­ter­i­za­tions and sto­ry­line of the romance was delib­er­ate­ly ‘stan­dard fare’, since any attempt at seri­ous char­ac­ter study would have been dwarfed by the vision of the script – to cre­ate a cin­e­mat­ic spec­ta­cle of the tragedy of the Titan­ic.

Unfor­get­table touch­ing scenes: a moth­er read­ing to her chil­dren while know­ing they are doomed, an old cou­ple embrac­ing in a watery grave, musi­cians per­form­ing while star­ing at death in the face.

The actu­al tragedy doesn’t strike us or the char­ac­ters in an instant, like many times in real life. The grav­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion slow­ly descends upon us, slow­ly. This is han­dled very sen­si­tive­ly, unlike sud­den hys­te­ria so typ­i­cal of dis­as­ter movies.

Awe-inspir­ing spe­cial effects that are sub­servient to the sto­ry and not the oth­er way around.

The movie edu­cates the audi­ence of the ships lay­out and its physics in an enter­tain­ing fash­ion before tragedy strikes. This is ingen­u­ous, because after it strikes, we actu­al­ly under­stand all the stages of the sink­ing with­out being focused on the physics. Rather, we are so knowl­edge­able about the ship that we are ful­ly immersed in the tragedy, emo­tion­al­ly involved with the char­ac­ters, and know exact­ly what is hap­pen­ing and will hap­pen.

Mak­ing a sus­pense­ful, engag­ing movie of this kind is a tech­no­log­i­cal feat. Mak­ing it with­out alter­ing the facts or devi­at­ing from his­to­ry, and weav­ing a roman­tic dra­ma in it, is vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble. Cameron is a genius who achieves it.

Noteworthy Mentions

The Indi­an Taare Zameen Par was a good main­stream movie that did not con­form to any of Bollywood’s usu­al for­mu­las. I have yet to find a sub-titled ver­sion of San­tosh Sivan’s The Ter­ror­ist.

Tenue De Soiree was weird­ly inter­est­ing. As a kid, I actu­al­ly enjoyed the 1978 British adap­ta­tion of The Thir­ty Nine Steps more than Hitchcock’s ver­sion. Two Half-Times in Hell, Zoltán Fábri’s Hun­gar­i­an mas­ter­piece that ‘inspired’ Hollywood’s Escape to Vic­to­ry, is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed. Ozu’s Tokyo Mono­gatari is high up on a moun­tain that I am still learn­ing to scale – sim­ple, pow­er­ful, and now com­pet­ing with Cit­i­zen Kane as one of the best films ever made. So, here are my note­wor­thy men­tions:

  • Throne of Blood: Kurosawa’s adap­ta­tion of Mac­beth with the extreme­ly pow­er­ful act­ing of Mifu­ne is stun­ning. The end of the film where Mifu­ne is killed by a thou­sand arrows is unbe­liev­able, breath­tak­ing, and icon­ic in cin­e­mat­ic lore.
  • Ter­mi­na­tor II: Pure enter­tain­ment.
  • The Third Man: One of the best-ever film noir movies, that I saw only once and want to see again.
  • To Kill A Mock­ing­bird, a beau­ti­ful adap­ta­tion of a clas­sic.
  • The Ter­mi­nal, Spielberg’s enter­tain­ing light film of an immi­grant with a unique prob­lem. Observe the entire con­struc­tion of the set of the Ter­mi­nal and study Janusz Kaminski’s unbe­liev­able, astound­ing cam­era work.
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  • Dev

    Mahen­dra, I was quite pos­i­tive that Taxi Dri­ver will cut your list. Cer­tain­ly Scorsese’s best film for me very very close­ly fol­lowed by Good­fel­las. It was so anti nar­ra­tive and un-Hol­ly­wood like at that time that it had trou­ble find­ing tak­ers, even though Scors­ese already had suc­cess behind him when he made Taxi Dri­ver. I had seen the dvd with Scorsese’s detailed inter­view ..it gives so much more insight into the film and scorsese’s style of film mak­ing. Yes, as you say, it had auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal under­tones. Also, it’s uni­ver­sal theme of lone­li­ness found/finds res­o­nance with audi­ences across the world.
    Titan­ic was that ulti­mate roman­tic film, so per­fect­ly cast and exe­cut­ed.
    Thanks for talk­ing about some oth­er films which I might see now. Strange­ly, I did­nt find Ter­mi­nal good enough even though it’s theme of cross cul­tur­al mis com­mu­ni­ca­tion is one of my favorite themes. I found Spielberg’s han­dling of the sto­ry quite ama­teur­ish and stereo­typed. Per­haps I was too harsh with the film.
    Mock­ing­bird, as you might know, cut my list under K, so noth­ing to add.

  • I have Taxi Dri­ver in my lap­top but have not seen it yet.
    Titan­ic is a sort of an exam­ple in many ways. To have the con­vic­tion of mak­ing a movie with such a bud­get is an achieve­ment in itself.

  • Anand

    Taxi Dri­ver — I knew you would men­tion it some­where.

    Titan­ic — They made good use of the bud­get, but I didn’t like the movie a whole lot.

    Tare Zameen Par — The best part of the movie was how Amir Khan took the back­seat. Excel­lent movie.

    Ter­mi­na­tor II — I like the movie, but I was sur­prised to see you list it

    The Ter­mi­nal — Didn’t like the movie a whole lot

    To Kill A Mock­ing­bird — Loved the movie and the book. I remem­ber read­ing some­where that in the poll for the best movie hero char­ac­ter Atti­cus Finch was vot­ed at the top (and for vil­lain char­ac­ter it was Dr. Han­ni­bal Lecter).

    Anand

  • Titan­ic is Bol­ly­wood kitsch shot with ten­fold bud­get (or more?). I endured it. And I swear it would have been dif­fi­cult, if not for enter­tain­ment I got from peo­ple cry­ing and gasp­ing around me.

    Taxi Dri­ver, I couldn’t have put that bet­ter. Pre­cise review, if there was one.

    In T, Tru­man Show had an inter­est­ing con­cept. Although exe­cu­tion left a lot to be desired.

  • As usu­al a good list and I agree with with asuph about the Titan­ic although I enjoyed the movie thor­ough­ly! I enjoy kitsch too! Taxi Dri­ver is one I need to see I guess but I don’t know how Amit will be able to enjoy it on his lap­top! I dream one day of hav­ing a per­son­al home the­atre and catch up on all the movies I have missed. I imag­ine myself doing this at the age of eighty 🙂

  • I have it, but not sure if it’s loaned to some­one. Let me check today when I get home. Will bring it along when I drop in this week (if I have it that is).

    cheers,
    asuph

  • Dot­tie

    I am not sur­prised to see Taxi Dri­ver. But was sur­prised to see Titan­ic 🙂 To Kill a Mock­ing Bird — Loved the book bet­ter than the movie. The movie seems a bit more in-your-face than the book. So many nuances in the book! Haven’t seen Tare Zameen Par. It has been on my lsit for ages!

  • Now more than ever we need to talk to each oth­er, to lis­ten to each oth­er and under­stand how we see the world, and cin­e­ma is the best medi­um for doing this.”[Scorsese]

    I much pre­fer a con­ver­sa­tion while drink­ing a cup of tea. 😀

    Re:Taxi Dri­ver, it wouldn’t have been the excel­lent film it is with­out Bernard Hermann’s jazz score, which he com­plet­ed hours before his death. And Paul Schrad­er deserves a men­tion for his excel­lent script which incor­po­rat­ed some auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal ele­ments into Bickle’s char­ac­ter.

  • I knew Titan­ic would sur­prise many folks. 🙂

    I know I have to read Mock­ing Bird…

  • Mahen­dra:

    If all iPhone own­ers use Run­pee there would be quite a queue at the loos in those times. Exclu­siv­i­ty does not work if acces­si­ble to the mass­es.

  • Tora Tora Tora? Not sure how high it would rank here. Per­haps as a note­wor­thy men­tio? I mean con­sid­er­ing you chose Titan­ic as run­ner-up 😉 !!!

    Arun