Assignment 4: response to tutor feedback

My immediate response to Pauline’s feedback was admiration for the clarity of her writing and her ability to seemingly effortlessly articulate ideas I shared but had somehow not been able to express in my essay. The indication that my submission is solid and that the choice of ‘Taxi Driver’ works well as an examination of visual performance and conflicted masculinity is reassuring. As is the reassurance that my summation of Mulvey’s position of how patriarchal society is aligned with Hollywood cinema.

Pauline is direct in emphasising her frustration that I submitted assignments 4 and 5 together which makes any recommendations she may make towards the fifth assignment redundant. At the time, I did this I felt driven by the simple pragmatism that the final assignment needed to be submitted at a certain point for me to hit my deadline. The reality of the situation however was that assignment four sat virtually completed quite a while before the final date and I can only explain my failure to submit earlier to be based on a lack of confidence in what I had produced and feeling that by taking some more time I would be able to improve the essay. This lack of certainty is something I need to be very mindful of as I progress in my studies as I now recognise how much of a barrier to my progression it has become.

The main piece of criticism Pauline offers is that the areas of theory I am referring to could be more clearly demonstrated, particularly in the introduction. Below is a summary of the recommendations Pauline makes:

  • Would be helpful to provide images as alluded to in the assignment brief.

This is not something I had considered at all but something that makes perfect sense as soon as it was mentioned. I must admit to not picking up on this suggestion when I read the brief.

  • Make the introduction clearer as to which areas of theory covered in the unit are incorporated in the essay. For example – Freud and Lacan, fetishism, narcissism, the mirror phase, the real and the imaginary, postmodernism (i.e. the way Scorsese references other films/genres – a postmodern conceit and require a viewer who understands such pointers), gendered looking and the male gaze (that Bickle is an anti-hero and flawed example of masculinity)

These are all points that I felt I had covered in the essay. Going back and reviewing however I realised that I was not explicit enough with this referencing. The points about post modernism and the reading of Bickle’s flawed masculinity being the issue rather than a critique of masculinity itself are both points that I totally missed in my writing and would be useful to include.

  • The effect of first person narrative in film could be discussed – could tie in with Lacanian theory.

I agree with this but worry it could lead to too much digression.

  • May be some mileage in exploring how the film may be autobiographical with Bickle being a surrogate for Scorsese. Another layer of complexity is added if Scorsese is creating narratives more from other films than from lived experience.

The inspiration for the film was something I originally included but ended up editing out as it felt too biographical and moving away from the theoretical basis of the assignment. The notion of Scorsese creating narratives from films rather than lived experience is an interesting one particular when combined with the way screen writer Paul Schrader based Bickle on a combined imagining of himself at a very dark time in his life and the attempted assassination of Alabama governor George Wallace by Arthur Bremer in 1972. Schrader had recently gone through a marriage break up, was out of work, living in his car and drinking heavily. When he became hospitalised with a gastric ulcer he realised he had not spoken to anyone for weeks. His recovery coincided with coverage of Bremer following the assassination attempt, and his imagination was captured. Like him, Bremer had been living out of his car and had become convinced that killing a politician was the surest way to get the attention he felt starved of – when he failed to penetrate Nixon’s security he turned his attention to Wallace. Segments of Bremer’s diary were published in the papers and Schrader was fascinated by the way this undereducated, lower middle class, Midwestern psychopath would talk to himself in his diary – this became the basis for the use of voice over in ‘Taxi Driver.’ (Taubin, 2000: 10)

Where this becomes particularly interesting is in combination with the way Scorsese takes Schrader’s screenplay, what appears to be a deeply personal self-meditation, and adds the stylistic elements to the film which come from his own limited experience of life – films. Another telling scene in ‘Taxi Driver’ is the scene where Scorsese features as one of Travis’ customers. Sitting in the cab he describes in lurid, misogynist and racist terms how he will punish his wife and her lover’s infidelity. Scorsese says his decision to play the scene was pragmatic after the actor booked dropped out – budget and time constraints meant recasting was not an option. This feels disingenuous to me, Scorsese would have been well aware of how his self-inclusion in this most controversial scene would have been read and assertions of the reasoning are likely to be to distance himself from what the character says. Another scene has Scorsese witnessing Travis walks past him as he approaches to pick up Betsy from her office. This is both a direct reference to Hitchcock’s cameos in his own films and something more – Scorsese’s gaze never flickers from Bickle, his head following his movement across the frame so there is no doubt he is watching him. It is as if he is telling us as the viewers we need to keep a close watch on Travis.

  • Film could be placed in the context of America and the Vietnam war.

I felt I had done this but reviewing the essay again realised I could be more explicit about this as clearly the context is very important to ‘Taxi Driver’ is an important consideration of how the film finally looks.

  • Lacan could be referenced in relation to the early scene in the film which is orchestrated to stylistically represent Bickle’s state of mind in a visual way – this would bring account back to its theoretical base.

I assume that Pauline is referring to Lacan’s notion of the three orders: the imaginary, the symbolic and the real. The scene shows Travis walking towards the camera, first in an extreme long shot which then dissolves into a medium shot before again dissolving into a close up. The street is deserted except for Travis and the effect of the dissolves is that he appears and reappears before our eyes which is one of the first clues towards his disturbed psyche. Usually, cuts represent the passage of time, and while this is true of this scene, the small nudges forward are disconcerting which emphasises the technique and Travis’ discontinuity above all else.

  • There are two films which make interesting comparisons:

‘Rear Window’ – there are comparisons to be made with the theme of voyeurism and the spectacle, the way James Stewart has his view confined can be compared to the barrier that is made by Travis’ taxi, and, the link of the way Scorsese references Hitchcock in ‘Taxi Driver’.

‘Falling Down’ has the effect of drawing the viewer into the merging of self and the damaged persona – although most viewers would totally understand the psychological disintegration represented in this film whereas ‘Taxi Driver’ is much more ambivalent.

‘Rear Window’ was certainly a film I had thought about in relation to ‘Taxi Driver’, particularly as it is also cited by Mulvey in her essay. ‘Falling Down’ does have many similarities with ‘Taxi Driver’ but the character’s breakdown is presented in a much more simplistic and superficial way that I would not want to make comparisons. I thought about referencing other films in my essay but was worried about becoming side tracked – it seemed important to retain focus on ‘Taxi Driver’ as the main text.

  • Demonstration of racism can be explored in relation to cultural norms in America at the time – the civil rights and feminist movements were at the fore at the time of making.

Again, the cultural context of the time was in my mind and it is only on rereading that I realised I had not made as much of this as I thought I had.

  • Revise use of the word ‘blacks’ which is fine as a direct quote but otherwise not.

I agonised over my use of this term, which I intended to be used in the sense that this is the term that Travis would have used, if not something worse and more derogatory. (The terms spooks and niggers are used in the film, for me the whole point of their inclusion is that to leave them out would have been unrealistic – they emphasise a casual racism and demonstrate the racial tension of the time.) Pauline’s comments take me back to my worries about a lack of suitable alternative terminology that I felt when I wrote my essay. I have chosen the term ‘African American’ as a replacement but I must confess it is the best of a group of terms that I find are all unsatisfactory. (For example, coloured, people of colour, dark

skinned.) All of these terms seem to be loaded with liberal apologism, perhaps it is only right however that I feel uncomfortable using these terms as a white man.