Have you ‘scene’ it?: A response to a prescribed scene of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976)

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(Martin Scorsese, Taxi Driver, 1976)

The first thing we see is a close-up of the protagonist’s face. He’s determined, intrigued, perhaps a little nervous. Definitely uncertain about something yet definitely on a mission. This foreshadows the tone of the scene and the action that is to come.

Then we see the taxi from the outside as the camera pans over, revealing a sign that clearly reveals a sort of political/caucus/voting/voter registration setting (demonstrated by the uniquely American Red-White-and-Blue curtain-style banners that seem to say ‘Democracy is great and is in Action Here!’) We get to see the protagonist walk at a determined pace into the building. Scorsese is telling us, already, that the protagonist is after something inside. Then we follow him in with a ‘track in’, we join him on his mission.

The following shot transports us into the office immediately. It is indoors with the camera facing outdoors, showing the contrast and, perhaps more importantly, the sound changes from general outdoors ambience (some ‘air noise’ and cars driving by) to the bustle of an office (a phone starts to ring, there are other audible phone conversations, office chatter etc.). The protagonist pulls down on his blazer, straightening it up, he’s nervous but he’s determined to look/appear confident. He looks around, confirming his self-awareness. However, we see the feigned confidence on his face and in his pace. He walks right up to his target: the woman behind the desk (watched over by a creepy bushy-haired young man and a poster of the apparent candidate, ‘Palantine’ stating “We Are the People.” This is interesting and hard to comment on without the context of the rest of the film, but it may be a subtle hint towards an implication that the woman’s character is representative of the general, wider population (either in the film, or a comment on the social situation at the time of production). It feels like speculation when writing, however, Scorsese would have, of course, been very aware of the framing that led to “we Are the People” being placed almost directly next to the female character’s mouth, appearing almost as a cartoon ‘speech bubble’.

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(Martin Scorsese, Taxi Driver, 1976)

What follows is a hilarious sequence of conversation, courtesanship and jealousy, with each shot perfectly framed for comedy. Some of the shots pan at the perfect moment to have the bespectacled coworker just pop his prying eyes between the cracks of the two main subjects, in order for the audience to get a glimpse at his jealousy. Others are framed with enough ‘looking room’ for him to fill and, while out of focus, be visibly distressed by the protagonists’ presence and motives.

Conclusively, this scene from Taxi Driver (1976) is a seemingly very simple sequence with some brilliantly subtle moments that seems to elicit a kind of ‘insider’, ‘clique’ or ‘comradery’ feeling within the audience… it makes you feel like you’re a part of it – you’re in on the joke.

*Featured Image Credit: Martin Scorsese by Patrick Swirc

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