hmv.com presents… The Best Soundtracks of All Time: Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver, Martin Scorcese's classic film starring Robert De Niro as the unhinged vigilante Travis Bickle.
So what’s the film about?
Scorcese's film follows the exploits of Travis Bickle, a veteran of the Vietnam war now employed as a New York cabbie, working the graveyard shift and ferrying passengers around the city's less-than-reputable neighbourhoods. Through Bickle's eyes, New York at night is a picture of America's social and moral decay, the city streets filled with, as he puts it, “the scum, the c*nts, the dogs, the filth, the shit.” Unable to bear it any more, Bickle decides to do something about it. He buys himself a gun and prepares to become a vigilante and rid the city of its seedy societal elements.
Is this a score or a soundtrack?
It's a score, and a brilliant one at that, composed by none other than long-time Alfred Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann. It's worth noting that this is also Herrmann's final score – the composer had already been retired for several years and after initially refusing Scorcese's invitation, he eventually caved in after months of relentless badgering from the director. Sadly, it was to be his last – Herrmann died just weeks before the film premiered and he never got to see the film fully realised.
So what's it like?
Herrmann's score is both devilishly simple and mind-blowingly complex. On the surface, the score consists of two main themes, representing different aspects of Travis Bickle's personality. On the one hand, there's the smooth, jazzy love theme that characterises his romantic notions of love and decency, as well as his infatuation with Betsy, but then there's the tense, pounding, crashing second theme representing his pent-up rage.
Dig a little deeper though and there's a lot more happening. Hermann's clever score sees elements of the two themes popping up throughout the film in different ways as Travis' mental state starts to unravel; one such instance is a part of the melody that quietly plays backwards when Travis uses his rear-view mirror towards the second half of the film.
What does it give the film?
As well as helping to illustrate aspects of Bickle's character, Hermann's also helps illustrate the way he views the world he lives in – even the jazz-tinged love theme has a sleazy, lounge-lizard feel to it that perfectly fits the neighbourhoods he drives through at night.
What’s the best moment?
The most iconic scene is surely the one with Travis looking in the mirror (“are you talking to me?"), but the opening sequence with Travis driving through the streets is one of the best moments for the soundtrack, with the cymbals crashing as the water splashes against the windows.
Has it stood the test of time?
We think so. It sounds very much of its era in a way but Herrmann's style has been copied so often that it could be from a film released last week.