Tribeca: 'Taxi Driver' Team Recalls Filming in 1970s New York, Current Relevance of Classic
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Paul Schrader, Michael Phillips and Harvey Keitel reunited for a 40th anniversary screening at New York City's Beacon Theater on Thursday night, where De Niro recalled driving a cab after winning an Oscar and Keitel joked about doing research with a real pimp.
What a difference 40 years makes.
The team behind Taxi Driver reunited on Thursday night at the Tribeca Film Festival for a screening of the classic New York film, but the city depicted onscreen looks dramatically different from the one outside the doors of the Beacon Theater on New York's Upper West Side, where the celebratory screening was held, just a few blocks north of the Columbus Circle the movie features so prominently.
Filming in New York has changed as well, as star Jodie Foster — who was just 12 when she filmed Taxi Driver and has made multiple movies in the Big Apple since then, including the upcoming Money Monster — recalled Thursday night on the red carpet.
While De Niro really drove Travis Bickle's yellow cab around Manhattan, with Scorsese in the back seat, for Taxi Driver, Foster said it's harder to film in the city nowadays.
"There's a lot more paparazzi and intrusion, and it's very difficult to make a movie now on the streets," she said. "Money Monster was tough, being out there with Julia [Roberts] and George [Clooney] was hard. That didn't happen in those days. But it's the greatest city in the world. Of course it's cinematic and everybody wants to be here. I've made so many films here. It's a special place to film, and as far as I'm concerned, it's kind of the film shooting capital of the world now. Pretty much everything's shooting in New York."
Taxi Driver producer Michael Phillips remembered New York as much different place in the 1970s, with shooting finishing just months before President Gerald Ford denied a federal bailout to the city then on the brink of bankruptcy.
"We were there in '76, the whole West Side was bombed out. There really were row after row of condemned buildings and that's what we used to build our sets, were condemned buildings. Now it's fashionable real estate," Phillips told The Hollywood Reporter. "But New York and Times Square was shuddering and disgusting. It's just exciting to see the city bounce back and become the great place it is today from where it was then. We didn't know we were documenting what looked like the dying gasp of New York."
Despite depicting mid-'70s New York and the film's post-Vietnam War themes, Phillips said Taxi Driver is still relevant.
"This is a character who's still out there, making headlines," he said. "It's a glimpse into a very tortured soul. I think it's an important, history-making prototype."
Cybill Shepherd added, "The story and the film are very fresh. Nothing has aged about the film. The fact that we got this extraordinary cast and really unusual story. I don't think any story has been told like that."
Introducing the screening, De Niro revealed another way that the film has remained fresh, at least in his mind — by people quoting his famous "You talkin' to me?" line back to him every day.
"Forty years," De Niro began his opening remarks. "Every day for 40 f—ing years, at least one of you has come up and said — what do you think — 'You talkin' to me?'"
With that, he had the audience say the line in unison on a count of three so it was out of everyone's systems. "There, try not to laugh when you hear it in the movie now," the actor said.
Unfortunately there were a few chuckles heard in the audience.