Director: Martin Scorcese
Scene: Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) leaves the taxi company office.
Camera Set Up: Sticks, 270° pan.
Brief Description: A wide lens catches Travis exiting the taxi office. As he approaches frame-right the camera starts panning left, revealing the large, dark garage filled with bright yellow taxis. The camera keeps rotating, completing a 270° pan to finish on Travis, now frame-left, standing momentarily in the garage entrance. He looks to his right, into the dark taxi garage. He steps left out into the early morning light, the camera completing its pan to follow him.
Analysis: This camera move proves that a novel, interesting and unique shot does not require expensive, highly specialised or unusual equipment. By making use of a simple tripod’s inherent function (a swivel head that can turn 360°) a straightforward scene reveal is turned into the first true hint at Travis life from now on.
Technically, this is a simple shot to explain where Travis is. He has signed up for a Taxi driver job and sees the vehicles he will be driving in the future.
While Travis does not seem to have any major financial worries, he certainly carries a heavy emotional burden. He is so alone and unhappy that he needs something in his life that allows him to feel superior to other people. The taxi-cab, with its bright yellow paint coat, serves as protective vessel from which he can observe and judge, with perfect anonymity – who remembers a taxi driver’s face? On the street, walking around at night, he is vulnerable: to assault, to recognition, to getting sucked in to what he sees.
Would Travis have acted out his final slaughter of the pimps if he had worked in a different job? Say, as a gas station attendant? Or even simply worked only in the daytime? Even a fellow taxi driver tells him that “the man becomes the job”. Travis becomes part of the night scenes of “whores, buggers, pimps, queers..” etc simply by being there.
When Travis exits the taxi company office he comes out alone, despite the bustle and coming-going of people in the background when he was being interviewed. The taxis sit in darkness, dead and empty. They are not bathed in a warm positive light, or sitting parked in a grassy summer meadow. The viewer gets no positive reaction from the slow pan through the featureless, dirty and dark garage – these are not machines for good and happy purposes. They are dead assemblages of metal, paint and gears. But – perform the correct sequence of actions and the taxis can come to life, engine pistons will rise and fall, the exhausts will cough and puff smudges of black fumes.
The taxi will allow him to go where he wants, see without being seen and escape if challenged. Tellingly, he states in the very first scene that he is awake nights and travels around anyway – he figured he “might as well get paid for it”. So, he is already familiar with New York’s night life and he saw something there that could fill a hole in his life, that could provide him with a purpose. He would watch, and judge – and get paid for it. The critical weapon in his battle with his self-hate is the cornflower yellow taxi cab. This vehicle becomes fundamental to his identity, to his actions and to his decisions.
There is another machine that is a lifeless collection of metal, paint and gears, inanimate but laden with combustible potential, waiting for the right grip, the right pressure, the right intent. The cab becomes his battlefield transport, his APC, incongruous yet camouflaged in its yellow paint job. Travis Bickle uses just one cab, but he soon owns four guns.
Travis was seeing the very first piece of his future arsenal when he walked out of that office.