Taxi Driver is viewed as an iconic film in many respects, but the core of its impact must include Robert de Niro's central performance, Martin Scorsese's direction and Bernard Herrmann's music. This was the composer's final film and he died only hours after conducting the final recording sessions and, at Scorsese's insistance, the film carries a dedication in memory of Bernard Herrmann. The composer has many outstanding film score credits from his earlier collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock but Taxi Driver is one of his finest scores. ln the movie, de Niro plays the title role alongside an impressive supporting cast. As a cab driver, he sees a lot of the seedier side of life, and his increasingly deranged mind concocts a mission to take action against a corrupt world. The music is every bit as riveting and intense as de Niro's performance.
In a departure from Herrmann's normal style, here he starts with a relatively laid-back theme in a jazz idiom which aptly depicts the sleazy setting among the city's night life. Interspersed with the jazz theme on saxophone we have dark motives and some great whooshes of sound which are clearly portents of doom. You just know that the Travis Bickle (the taxi driver) is unhinged and increasingly ready to take some kind of drastic action. Very unsettling but strangely compelling at the same time. The sax solos are played by Tom Scott, who also has many credits as a recording artist on some major films including Bladerunner, and as composer for a variety of TV shows (see his web-site at www.TomScottMusic.com). In addition to the sax which often as on track 4 is accompanied by some lounge lizard piano, other important instruments include the snare drum perhaps hinting at the Travis Bickle's military background. Some of the instruments like bass clarinet play some slow "breathing" figures and an important descending motive. These dark "motives" become more prominent suggesting an unstoppable descent into the cab driver's own personal tortured hell. By the climax of track 10 the sax theme is taken up by muted trumpets against the firm resolve of repetitive timpani. Harp glissandis also play an important role throughout the score.
The CD delves very deeply into the film's world when a number of music tracks include the cab driver's monologue of his thoughts, adding immensely to the experience including the "You talking to me?" dialogue into the mirror. The CD also has some "Additional Interpretations" arranged by David Blume. Blume worked uncredited as music director for Herrmann's music, so perhaps he is justified in having a mention on the album, but some of the arrangements take us a little too far from the mood of the film. The CD cover folds out and contains commentary by Martin Scorsese on how he chose and eventually persuaded Herrmann to do this score. There is also a lot of detail on the actual tracks selected and where they sit (chronologically) in the movie, and finally the monologues are also listed as spoken by de Niro. And if you're brave enough, you can turn this over and pin up a shot from de Niro's ad-libbed mirror scene on your bedroom wall! The latest "Vinyl" version is something of a novelty looking like a mini-LP but it plays just like any other CD. The recording has been created from a 20-bit digital master and is crystal clear throughout. These links provide further information and reviews of the album in both the standard CD and vinyl versions:
The Additional Interpretations are a little superfluous and a bit variable, detracting in parts from the movie's mood. But, hey, they're free extras filling out an additional 20 minutes on the CD and you don't have to listen to them:
This is a landmark film score from one of the greatest film composers ever, and anyone who likes Herrmann's music should have this CD in their collection. Released after the composer's death, it bears the same dedication to his memory as the film itself. Scorsese recounts how Herrmann's ill health was apparent during the soundtrack recording. He died in his sleep having just that day finished recording the final cues for the movie.