Art by Guy Peellaert
Paul Schrader wrote the screenplay for Taxi Driver in about ten days. He was 26 years old. He wrote continuously, intuitively, from the gut—not like screenwriters today who write for a market, an audience, a paycheck. Schrader had been living in his car, parked at night on off-roads and empty, anonymous LA streets. One day, he was agonizing pain and was admitted to A&E. An ulcer had gone bad. When answering the questions of date, birth, allergies and such asked by a nurse, Schrader realized he hadn’t spoken to anyone in over three weeks. That’s when he got the idea for Taxi Driver:
It really hit me, an image that I was like a taxi driver, floating around in this metal coffin in the city, seemingly in the middle of people, but absolutely, totally alone.
The taxicab was a metaphor for loneliness, and once I had that, it was just a matter of creating a plot: the girl he wants but can’t have, and the one he can have but doesn’t want. He tries to kill the surrogate father of the first and fails, so he kills the surrogate father of the other. I think it took ten days, it may have been twelve – I just wrote continuously. I was staying at an old girlfriend’s house, where the heat and gas were all turned off, and I just wrote. When I stopped, I slept on the couch, then I woke up and I went back to typing.
The script kicked around Hollywood until Martin Scorsese picked it up. Then it was filmed with hardly any of Schrader’s original script being changed—it was only added to by the sheer bloody brilliance of Scorsese’s direction and the perfectly pitched, disturbingly real performance by Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle. I’ve watched Taxi Driver about 50 times—and with each viewing appreciate something new and different about it—it’s one of those very, very rare films that gets better with every viewing. How it didn’t clean up at the Oscars is still one of those great unexplained mysteries, as it was the best American film of the 1970s. In 1980, the trio of Scorsese, De Niro and Schrader reunited to make the greatest American movie of the 1980s Raging Bull—which similarly should have won all eight of its Oscar nominations.
Screenwriter Paul Schrader with Scorsese and De Niro.
Personnel Officer: How’s your driving record? Clean?
Travis Bickle: It’s clean, real clean. Like my conscience.
More photos of Bob, Marty, Cybil, Jodie & Harvey, after the jump…