“All the animals come out at night,” says Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), the confused protagonist at the center of Martin Scorsese’s seminal 1976 film “Taxi Driver.” And he’s certainly one of them.
A mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran, Travis suffers from insomnia, so he works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City. He scours the streets nightly and wants to rid the city of sleaze, even if he watches porn movies during the day. But his reality, we soon find out, is a detached and skewed one.
When he meets pretty campaign worker Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), he becomes obsessed with the idea of saving the world, first plotting to assassinate a presidential candidate, then directing his attentions toward rescuing a 12-year-old prostitute (Jodie Foster, who received her first Academy Award nomination for her performance).
The film is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, including best picture, best director for Scorsese and best actor for De Niro.
Leif Jonker’s Wichita Big Screen initiative is hosting a 40th anniversary screening of “Taxi Driver” on Monday and Tuesday at Warren Old Town. Jonker says he was 12 or 13 when he first saw the film and was “mind-fried by it” for a few days afterward.
“Even in its quieter moments it manages to feel explosive,” Jonker said. “Or at the very least, like you’re riding along the edge of a razor, just about to tip over into the abyss. From beginning to end, a suspenseful, shocking, beautiful piece of filmmaking.”
The American Film Institute ranked it as the 52nd-greatest American film on its “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Movies” list. Other accolades include being selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1994, and considered “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress.
It’s also an acting tour de force, with one of De Niro’s most iconic roles. His “You talkin’ to me?” bit is a famous piece of pop culture.
“I don’t know a single performer who doesn’t have his own take on it,” Jonker said. “And can deliver an impression of it on immediate demand.”
Film buffs have long dissected the film in many ways, heralding Scorsese’s direction and vision. Jonker, a filmmaker himself, says some directors are considered “actor’s directors” with not much visual flair. Then there are others known more for their cinematic style.
“The great thing about Scorsese is that he is simply so punch-drunk in love with all aspects of filmmaking that he always delivers on both fronts of performance and visuals,” Jonker said.
He notes one scene in particular, when Travis is in the taxi garage, and the camera does a full circle away and back to him.
“This isn’t simply the self-indulgence of a young filmmaker,” Jonker said. “It is a calculated design to set you off your center as a viewer, to depict the banality of the garage as something otherworldly, to give you an idea as to how Travis feels at his work, in the world, within his own skin.”
The version being shown at the Warren Old Town is a 4K digital restoration approved by Scorsese. It was just shown at the Tribeca Film Festival, which held a special screening to celebrate its 40th anniversary.
Jonker says “it would be a crime for any lover of films to miss seeing it on the big screen.”
What: Special screenings to celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary
When: 7 and 10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday
Where: Warren Old Town, 353 N. Mead
How much: $5
Rated: R (must be 18 to enter)