Martin Scorsese’s gritty, groundbreaking movie Taxi Driver is returning to theaters this weekend, with special Fathom Events-hosted screenings marking the 40th anniversary since its release, joining a new Blu-ray restoration being released in a few weeks. So it’s a good time, I think, to take a look at the movie’s campaign. But this time instead of going back to look at the 1976 campaign that originally sold it to audience I thought I’d look at the new assets created for the new release of the movie.
In case you need a refresher on the movie’s story, let’s catch up. Robert DeNiro plays Travis Bickel, a New York City taxi driver who suffers from paranoid delusions that are being made worse by his insomnia. Increasingly detached from reality he becomes more and more dangerous, convinced only he can save the city, which was falling apart due to poverty and crime at the time. Becoming involved with a campaign worker played by Cybill Shepherd, he flirts with planning to kill the president until he decides his mission is to save a young prostitute played by Jodie Foster. The movie is a snapshot of New York in the 70s, which was dirty and grimy and crime-ridden and a veritable powder-keg of tension.
The poster to mark this weekend’s re-release is more artfully designed than that of many new releases and captures much of the essence of the movie in a fairly simple image. What we see is the rear-view mirror of a car – presumably a taxi – with DeNiro’s eyes visible in the mirror. Slightly below the mirror, blurry in the unfocused distance are the city lights, including an “XXX” sign that shows the state of the city at the time and what Bickel is lashing out against. The brown and yellows of the poster are all faded and muted, giving a sense of the gritty look and feel of the movie.
The re-release trailer is focused on Bickel’s decent into madness. Dialogue from him talks about how eventually the filth and animals of the city will be washed away by a “real rain.” We see him getting more and more unhinged, briefly interacting with Shepherd and Foster and others. Generally he’s going through the city, becoming more and more disillusioned with what he sees around him, from the porn theaters to the prostitution to the violence. He obviously doesn’t play well with others. Much of the last half of the trailer intercuts between the famous “You talkin’ to me?” scene and other shots to show just how dangerous he’s becoming.
It’s a solid trailer that is meant to reenforce what audiences already love about the movie, from that iconic scene that everyone can quote (often incorrectly) to the shots of DeNiro and a young Foster to images of DeNiro becoming more and more unhinged. It’s not all that innovative but should get the job done when it comes to reinforcing the movie’s status as a classic.
There was also a shorter Fathom-specific version that condensed the best parts into 30 seconds.
So the campaign as a whole, while not huge, did what it needed to do to take what people love about the movie and reminding them that many haven’t had the chance to see it on the big screen in years, if ever. Earlier in the year the cast and Scorsese did some press to mark the anniversary, making for a nice sustained effort for the re-release, even if that press push wasn’t necessarily tied to this weekend’s events.