Who’s that knocking down the door?
There’s a scene in Taxi Driver where Travis Bickle, the lonely, wannabe-messiah, stares at an urchin outside a New York café while the camera follows his cold, yet burning, eyes. Martin Scorsese delivers a hammerblow of a scene which suggests his protagonist’s naiveté. This naiveté marks much of his memorable characters: be it Bickle, Jake la Motta in Raging Bull, Rupert Pupkin in King of Comedy or even Henry Hill in Goodfellas, to an extent. In Departed, Billy Costigan has that. Martin Scorsese has that.
For someone who has been making films essentially about America; an America which lies beneath a veneer of hopeless platitudes, an America which appears to have a life of its own with universal problems, a normal America; Scorsese longed for an award which was as pretentious as America wanted to be. He never distanced himself from the Oscars, which had preferred, at various times, Robert Redford and Kevin Costner over him. He was too American for that.
The Oscars liked his movies (Raging Bull), loved his actors (Robert de Niro), but somehow kept him at bay, outside the big party. The naiveté of Scorsese made him want it, but the door was kept tantalizingly shut. Now, he has broken it open, or more appropriately, they allowed him to. So that, the old man can join the merry bunch, shed the angst, free himself from his spiritual confusion, and lose his loneliness. Batman has chosen Travis Bickle to be his Robin. Will Bickle help him with the cape?
Age of Innocence
The first time I heard of Scorsese was in a Times of India review by Rashid Irani of Casino. That didn’t start the rush for his films as did the desire to get hold of as many Robert de Niro and Al Pacino movies as possible. Like anyone brought up on a hero culture, the two dramatic actors were late additions to a long wish-list. This was a different age, an age when information was limited, piracy wasn’t as necessary and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were at the pinnacle of our acting peaks.
Al Pacino had made a whirlwind appearance on DD with the Godfather’s serialized version. But it wasn’t until Panic at the Needle Park that Pacino came home, and stayed put. It wasn’t until Greetings that one got to know of a world outside Predators and Rambos; a world lot simpler, but more complicated. This was the age when one graduated gradually; when there was no way you could watch Karma in the morning and Andrei Rublev in the evening. There was a logical way of progression. You got hold of films only when you wanted them badly.
Video parlours, at least in Bombay, rarely hosted de Niro’s and Pacino’s movies. The first time we enquired, we were told they were banned in India. “’Vada Pav’ maangta hai toh milega. Robert de Niro ka ban hai.” After hours of searching, we found Cape Fear, Casino and Jackie Brown (which had just released). The vendors were surprised. Kids never bought those.
An year later, AXN aired Taxi Driver. In some ways, that opened the floodgates and as Michael Corleone said in Godfather II, times were changing. Deer Hunter followed and in their brilliant but short-lived Indian career, TNT showed Gang that couldn’t Shoot Straight, an early de Niro venture. They went on to show Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-up, but that was not in the syllabus then, so to say.
Scorsese was soon everywhere, Star Movies, AXN and almost in Mysore, where he wanted to shoot Kundun. Raging Bull was a revelation, King of Comedy was admirable, and New York, New York munched you from breakfast to lunch. Meanwhile, Godfather brought back memories (the scene near the Oranges where Don Corleone is shot, still appears in black-and-white, thanks to DD) and Midnight Cowboy recommended Dustin Hoffman. Yet, it was Taxi Driver which stood down the alley leading you to a more illustrious Hall of Fame.
Taxi Driver, like Travis Bickle, was fairly lonely. But it was good education, in that age of innocence.