Taxi Driver and the Early Days of the Commentary

Inside Criterion / On the Channel — Jul 2, 2018

Three decades ago, as Criterion was first jumping into the home-video market, the form of the audio commentary was just beginning to take shape, offering critics and scholars a brand-new way of conveying their studies of the medium, and filmmakers a novel way of reflecting on their own work. This month, on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck, we’re presenting one of the most insightful commentary tracks to emerge during those early days of the supplemental feature: director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader’s revealing analysis of their visceral psychological drama Taxi Driver (1976), originally included on our laserdisc edition of the film. Veteran Criterion producer Karen Stetler, who has worked with Scorsese on a number of projects over the decades, remembers the track being recorded in Janus Films’ New York office on Seventh Avenue, in a dusty conference room overcrowded with film reels and filing cabinets.

As the story of tortured New York cabbie Travis Bickle (one of Robert De Niro’s most iconic roles) unfolds on-screen, Scorsese and Schrader take turns exploring the movie from a variety of different angles, with the former paying particular attention to the construction of scenes, and the latter explaining how the script emerged from a period of struggle and uncertainty in his life. For a quick sample of this in-depth discussion, check out the video above, in which Scorsese and Schrader appreciate each other’s contributions to the material: Scorsese tells of his initial excitement upon reading Schrader’s script, and the screenwriter identifies the way the director’s “highly frenetic, cutting-against-the-grain, urbanized style” serves as a counterpoint to Bickle’s deep-seated “Protestant reserve and inhibition.”