This Taxi Driver article was written by Rosie Conning, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Nick Roseblade
Bernard Herman’s score for Martin Scorsese’s phenomenal hit film Taxi Driver is arguably one of the best compositions ever recorded for a feature film. Herman succeeded to create a powerful soundtrack that can stand on its own, not just as an accompaniment to the image. There are two distinctly paradoxical elements to the score, one being an evocative instrumentation that could easily be associated with a late night jazz bar and carries with it the connotations of a typical New York City scene, which is where the film takes place. The other is incredibly sinister and unnerving, almost operatic with the featured trumpets and rhythmic snare drum; completely antithetical to that of the sensuous Jazz.
The two elements act almost as a screensaver to the character’s brain and throught processes, giving us an insight into the schizophrenic tendencies of De Niro’s character Travis Bickle. There are many interludes of voiceover throughout the film where the reasoning behind Herman’s choice of music is perhaps the most recognisable. The calm New York jazz pieces, featuring a solo saxophone player, lure the audience into a false sense of security and comes into play when Bickle is displaying his kind, collected nature. We see a scene where the character is driving the taxi and idly daydreaming over his love interest as the voiceover contemplates, ‘Betsy, Betsy awh no Betsy what I forgot to ask her last name again.’ These rambling trains of thought are pleasant when accompanied by the smooth, romantic saxophone pieces, really making the character relatable.
This is then completely antithetical to a later scene where an almost horrific and intensifying composition of suspended symbols and eerie drones accompanies a similar driving scene, where Bickle’s voiceover murmurs, ‘All the animals come out at night – someday a real rain will come and wash this scum off the streets.’ However the true display of Herman’s genius is in the end scene. We hear scaling harps over the unnerving tones he has subject us to throughout, which could only be used to truly emphasise the insanity of what has just un-folded. The camera pans out over a bloody murder scene, after Travis Parker dies a cold-blooded killer, Herman then brilliantly combines the saxophone player with the sinister instrumentation which is almost reminiscent of the characters journey from isolation to fatal insanity.
Ironically, this was Herman’s last movie score before he died, leaving him unappreciated throughout his life for his sheer talent as a composer. This soundtrack is irrevocably gripping, thought-provoking and a true work of art. This is a score that is memorable not only as a brilliant film accompaniment, but as a transcendent composition of its own accord.