Auto Gigolo attends premiere of freshened-up “Taxi Driver”

A BRILLIANT WORK, REMASTERED.
“I don’t know who’s weirder, you or me.” Jodi Foster, “Taxi Driver”

If anyone asks me why I live in an overpriced, crowded, out-of-control, busted-up, broken-down city like New York, I always tell them it’s because of A) The Film Forum B) Lasker Pool and C) The city has been incredibly good to me.

Last night, it was good to me again as I attended the premiere of the newly remastered TAXI DRIVER at the Director’s Guild on West 57th.

 

Harvey Keitel, Robert DeNiro, "Taxi Driver," 1976

My father took me to all those bloody, scary, disturbing films in the 70’s as a very young kid, like “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein,” “Frenzy,” “The Godfather,” and so on.  We saw “Taxi Driver” at our local theatre and it gave me nightmares for days.  It seemed more like a documentary than a movie.  Still does.

I confess, however, that I felt “Taxi” was overrated as I saw it again through the years on video, and once at the Film Forum.  Now that I am older than all the actors were in the movie—Robert DeNiro, Cybill Shepherd, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel—and now that I have taken Robert McGee’s film deconstruction course at this same center, where I watched “Casablanca” deconstructed over 6 hours, shot by shot, I see what a brilliant piece of work “Taxi Driver”  is. Each shot’s composition is  a work of art.  Each actor is alive, intense, vivid, real. I didn’t have the eyes or mental acumen to appreciate it until now.

Martin Scorcese and screenwriter Paul Schrader appeared onstage before the film and talked about shooting the movie in the incredibly hot and sticky summer of 1975.

Scorcese said there are no studio shots in the film—just the streets, the cab, the office of Palantine for President, the diner, the X-rated movie theatre, Travis Bickle’s apartment and the building, hallway and apartment where the climax occurs. Schrader said that before he wrote the script, he was living in his car and got the idea of a desperately lonely man in a big city.

A compelling, satisfying movie, part story, part period piece illustrating New York City, 1975.

OTHER STUFF HAPPENED AT THE MOVIE, THOUGH.

My wife J.J. and I had the misfortune to be sitting in the packed theatre in front of a father and son apparently straight out of Bay Ridge, the son about my age and a bodybuilder, and the father looking like a longshoreman.  As soon as Scorcese came out, the father started commenting about every 3 seconds in an absurdly deep, loud voice.  It was an incredible voice but of course quite distracting, so I shhhh’d several times and then just gave up and took it.
When the panel was over and the lights came up as film was about to start, J.J. turned to the father and said, “Are you going to talk that way through the movie?”

The guy exploded under his breath,  telling her to shut her @#$@#$ mouth sotto voce, and J.J. gave it right back. Back and forth, back and forth they went in the space of 10 seconds, each of the man’s expressions more nasty than the last.  I saw it wasn’t going to end and I turned around and said, as though I was addressing a stadium, “That’s my wife—don’t you talk to her like that.  You shut up and you shut up and everybody shut up and let’s watch the movie, ok?” I purposely made a scene. Wasn’t angry, not really.  Just LOUD, on purpose.  Didn’t give a damn if people were looking—and they sure looked!

Then it was over. We all turned around and faced front, waiting for the lights to go down.

That’s when security appeared.  Since I was the one shouting, they came to me!

“Is there a problem here?” said a taxi-sized man with a shaved head and overcoat.

“No, no problem!”  I smiled.    Incident over.

I noticed the body builder son didn’t jump in.  I was reminded of my own father, who, in the last years of his life, was loud and unfiltered  and would explode if you challenged him, frequently embarrassing all.  I thought, “The son has been through this before with his father.”

At the end of the movie, everyone got up like ladies and gentlemen and filed out, no further problems.

Went downstairs to the lounge and who do I see examining a painting on the wall, all by herself, but Miss Debbie Harry.

Went up to her, softly got her attention—it took the second try—and said hi. She said hi back. I looked her in the eye and told her, “I love you and I’ve loved you for 30 years, and I’ll never get tired of listening to your voice until the day I die.”

She was hard in her face, very frozen in her energy. That was ok.  Someone probably has said something like that to her every day for 35 years. She said thanks, I walked away smiling like an idiot, and then her two female friends came out of the bathroom. Both looked at me and returned my lingering smile, very warm, as if they knew what meeting Harry meant to me, me, who has absorbed every lyric, every breath, every vocal nuance of Blondie’s hits like “Dreaming Is Free,” “Die Young Stay Pretty,” “Hangin’ On The Telephone,” “Call Me,” and so on, wishing she was my girlfriend as a boy, and waiting 31 years to tell her I loved her.  Me, who thought “Madonna’s ok but she’ll never be as famous as Debbie Harry,” when Madge’s star began to rise in 1983.

Blondie, circa 1980

The last time I saw Debby Harry was 1988, in Kenny’s Castaways, all by herself.  I didn’t say anything then—a stranger approached her before I got my nerve up and asked, “Are you Blondie?” which is like asking Ian Anderson if he’s “Jethro Tull”—and I slunk away, disappointed in myself. I wasn’t going to let this opportunity go by.  Who knows, it might have been another 23 years until I bumped into her again, in 2044.

When anyone ever asks why we put up with all the crap we put up with in NYC—sky-high rents, crowds, subways that break down when it rains, kooks in theatres, etc etc—

I will tell them, “This is why. Martin Scorcese doesn’t come to Pennsylvania or Idaho or Connecticut, and neither does Debbie Harry!”

-Josh Max, Auto Gigolo

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