Friday, June 20, 2008

American Brilliance- Taxi Driver (1976)

In 1976 I turned 13 yrs old and was obsessed with exactly 2 things in life- playing Baseball and watching Movies.
It would be difficult for any non-MTGers to even imagine the landscape of cinematic opportunities, or lack thereof, from that era but let me make it very simple. If you wanted to see a film in 1976 you had exactly 2 choices-
1). Haul your ass to the theater, buy a ticket at the box office and grab a seat or…
2). Late night television programming.
That’s it.

Please remember, however unfathomable it may seem, that this was not only pre-Netflix, this was pre-internet, not only pre-DVD but pre-VCR (remember those?). Sitting in a darkened, cavernous (by today’s standards) theater with your popcorn in one hand and your soda pop in the other while waiting for that curtain to pull and the vast screen to jump to brilliant life as it thundered sound, coming attractions and sometimes even a cartoon into your mind was your one and only chance to witness a 1st run film. Well…..wait a sec……there was the Drive-in but, you know, nobody (except overexcited 13 yr. old boys driven by their weary parents) went to the Drive-in to watch the Movie.

My childhood was a lucky one for many reasons. Chief among those was that my Father paid little attention to it. I was a privileged baby who was desperately spoiled and smothered in Moms protective Lioness Love and, perhaps because of this, was largely ignored by Pops and so was essentially free to go, do and be basically anything I wanted- Mother too wonderfully loving to punish me and Father too bored and busy to pay any real attention.
It was a sweet deal.

On occasion, however, Mom would hound Pops into taking an interest in me (perhaps assuming I wanted or needed a masculine Father Figure lest I turn sissy or something) and He would grudgingly acquiesce in, what I thought, was a decidedly clever fashion.

Now it wouldn’t take long to list His strong points but it would be unfair of me to state that he didn’t have more than a few. One of his most admirable was his savvy and unerringly accurate taste in Movies. And so on certain magical occasions after our dinner, and after much prodding from my Mother, he’d glance at me and say,
“Go get in the car.”

It was our Boys Night Out. He’d take me to see the latest and greatest flick that he himself was at least as psyched to see as I was knowing full well that I would be perfectly hypnotized by the story unfolding in front of my eyes and that he could safely and easily go back to ignoring me and otherwise enjoying himself. He could then, after 3 diligently parented hours, drop me back at home and disappear for the evening with no worries about maternal repercussions secure in the knowledge that he had faithfully fulfilled his Fatherly duty or at least that Mom could not reasonably complain.
Talk about Win-Win.

At that time, and amid the politically unstable period (post-Watergate), most social institutions were surprisingly reactionary and conservative (did I just write-at that time?) even if the Arts were not and so, unfortunately for most filmmakers and certainly viewers, the dreaded “R” rating really held some weight. It strictly meant No One Under 17 Admitted Without a Parent or Guardian.

As we breezed through the turnstiles eager and smiling.

And thus when I was 6 years young I was stunned to witness “Bonnie and Clyde” (1969) go down in a brutal hail of extended machine gun fire (weren’t the beautiful people supposed to win in the end?) and cheered at 7 as “Dirty Harry” (1971) blew the psycho killer into the lagoon then whipped his badge into the same murky water as a grand finale and shocking spit in Authority's eye.
I cringed as Sonny Corleone got much the same “B & C” treatment in “The Godfather” (1972) and then celebrated Fanucci getting His in the head in” The Godfather II” (1974).

All these and many more I watched in ravenous awe and, of course, reported faithfully back to my grade-school friends on the following Monday. Needless to say they gawked at me in slack-jawed wonder and naked envy, it would be years, and maybe decades, before they’d be able to see these same films that we’d all been dreaming of but they’d been summarily denied.
It was like I was auditing classes in cinematic Harvard while they were stuck with their noses glued to the TV Guide (do they have those anymore?) hoping that they might eventually, if they waited long enough, catch a Hitchcock or a John Ford Western if their parents let ‘em stay up late enough.

And so it was with delicious anticipation and no small amount of excitement that we prepared to view Scorsese's latest Urban Epic. Of course my Father and I had both read and heard about the controversy swirling around the film- Vile Language, Gratuitous Sex Scenes, Horrifying Violence and Irredeemable Characters trapped in a Depraved World of Sin.....

And of course we were 1st in line.

(Retrospective to follow)

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