Neo-noir NYC grit reminds us of…Today?
In 1976, New York City was in dire straits. The infamous Daily News headline FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD, was of recent vintage (the city would not be getting a financial bailout from the feds). Murders had spiked from 600 to 1600 in a few short years and there was no hope of that number going down. Heroin was an omnipresent threat to the city’s youth. Chaos ruled the streets and the police seemed incapable of having any effect on crime.
The good old days of the early 60’s seemed like a fuzzy memory – would New York ever be that good again?
Alas, it all makes us think of NYC right now. Opioids, mental illness, dangerous streets with pedestrians dodging scooters and the homeless, a 40% crime spike in recent years (which doesn’t seem to be waning), financial deficits, weak leadership, and inflationary pain all make for a less-than-nostalgic 1970’s feel.
The only difference is that in the 1970’s, we had some great American films. Today we have Chinese TikTok vomit.
One of the highlights of the gritty 1970’s is Scorsese’s masterpiece, Taxi Driver (1976). It was the perfect encapsulation of a city in decline (until the advent of Guiliani and Bratton). The movie captures everything that made 1970’s New York – politics, mental illness, crime, and rough streets.
De Niro was already an accomplished actor when he took the role, and he has never been better than his turn here as mentally disturbed taxi driver Travis Bickle. Here, he’s a total tough guy (this was before he started getting weepy about how great Joe Biden is). Scorsese hit a home run casting Jodie Foster as Iris, disturbingly young and a phenomenal actress. Cybil Shepard and Harvey Keitel round out the all-star cast. (Note: Look for Scorsese himself in a quirky cameo role).
Bickle floats through insomniac nights and mean streets, fighting demons real and imaginary, while obsessing on his perfect woman – an illusion that is unobtainable.
What may be the movie’s signature moment is the sort of simple scene you’d rarely see today: Travis, staring at a tv screen alone in his rundown apartment. What he does next begins the end, as the movie barrels to a jaw-dropping climax, with Bickle as unlikely anti-hero.
Taxi Driver is an iconic American film, and seeing it now should serve as a warning for where our cities are headed (it should be mandatory viewing for any presidential candidate).
So it’s worth taking some time to check out this stark portrait of a dystopian New York City. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait as long for a turnaround as the populace of 70’s New York had to.
Taxi Driver runs about 2 hours, and you are going to have to rent or buy it. We couldn’t find it for free anywhere so buck up. It’s still way less than today’s average New York cab fare!
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