Taxi Driver box art courtesy Sony Pictures
DVD Tuesday: Taxi Driver, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and New York City's Heart of Darkness

Did the world really need a new collector's edition of Taxi Driver (1976)? Probably not, but it's a great excuse - as though one were needed - to recommend a great film. And on top of Taxi Driver's intrinsic merits, watching it again was a fascinating reminder of how much New York City has changed since the mid-1970s. Check out Columbus Circle sans the massive glass slabs of the Time Warner Center, visit the now-vanished Bellmore Cafeteria, and witness the grunginess of Central Park's unrefurbished Maine Monument and the sheer sleazy glory of Times Square before Disney scrubbed the life out of it. There's a shocker in every scene, and that's before Travis Bickle ( Robert De Niro) starts his personal cleanup campaign. I remember that New York vividly and seeing Taxi Driver brings it all back.

For anyone who doesn't know the plot, it chronicles the mental disintegration of insomniac Vietnam veteran Travis, a loner whose stint as a late-night cabbie drives him right into his own personal hell. Written by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorsese (it's one of the many films for which he should have gotten that Oscar), it's a feverish, mesmerizing chronicle of urban isolation and features not one but three unforgettable performances. First and foremost, there's De Niro's tragic, terrifying Travis: Everyone knows the "You talkin' to me" speech - it's great at parties. But in context it's chilling enough to raise your neck hair, no matter how many times you've seen it. Given the mighty heap of hack De Niro has spent the last decade amassing, a look at Taxi Driver or Raging Bull (1980) is a bracing reminder of what he was. Everyone knows now that Jodie Foster is an accomplished actress, but back then she was a 14-year-old child star looking to transition to adult roles - which she did, ironically, by playing Taxi Driver's 12-year-old prostitute, Iris Steensma. And Harvey Keitel had been kicking around the business for a decade when he got his teeth into the role of Sport, Iris' pimp: And he made every moment of it count.

In its day, Taxi Driver was a fiercely divisive film: For every voice calling it a masterpiece, there were complaints that it glorified violence and painted the deranged Travis as a populist hero. I'm in the former camp: Travis' rampage buys him a few minutes of tabloid fame and the gratitude of Iris' small-town parents, but I think it's a willful misreading to imagine that either Scorsese or Schrader glorifies it.

Things to consider:

" Taxi Driver's New York is the New York of Travis' mind. How does his point of view affect the way he sees the city?

" Does depicting violence and insanity on screen necessarily make them attractive?

" Foster was 14 when she played Iris. Is it inherently distasteful to cast young performers in controversial roles, an argument raised most recently apropos the Dakota Fanning film Hounddog (2007)?

Send your movie questions to FlickChick.

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See Maitland McDonagh and Ken Fox review this week's new flicks on the Movie Talk vodcast.


Previously in DVD Tuesday:

Renaissance
Blowup
Hot Fuzz
300
Ace in the Hole
Eyes Without a Face
Apocalypto
Citizen Kane
La Jetée
Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
Bob le Flambeur
Near Dark
Perfect Blue
Pan's Labyrinth
Les Girls
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
The Queen
Expresso Bongo
I'm Not Scared
Shocking Grindhouse Double Bill! - Scanners and The Candy Snatchers
Don't Look Now
Re-Animator
Casino Royale
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The Prestige
13 Tzameti
The Departed
Suspiria
Kiss and Make Up
Kiss Me Deadly
The Long Good Friday
What Alice Found
The Devil's Backbone
The Descent
The Devil Wears Prada
Pandora's Box
The Thief and the Cobbler
Nashville
Panic in the Streets/Jack Palance Interview
The Pusher Trilogy
Scarface
Slither
Sunset Blvd.
In Cold Blood
Brick

Also: This week's new DVD releases