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ONE NIGHT DURING my junior year of high school, my girl and I packed the car with the standard supplies--two sixes of Pabst and a couple condoms--and headed to the drive-in to see Taxi Driver. We knew nothing about the film, which had just been released. We were--pardon the pun--blown away.

Written by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorsese, Taxi Driver is a masterpiece. And if Amy Taubin's splendid new essay on the film isn't a masterpiece itself, on some levels it comes close. Taubin, a film critic for the Village Voice, provides a comprehensive backstory on the making of the film, as well as an erudite exploration of the film's enduring impact and controversies. And throughout, she brings a native's gritty New York sensibility to this most New York of films.

The book is packed with interesting details and valuable information. Three examples: To placate racial sensitivities, Scorsese significantly softened Schrader's script (heated debate over the film's alleged racism persists nonetheless); Scorsese avoided an X rating by changing the tint of the final scenes so that blood would appear less red; Schrader's script was heavily influenced by the diaries of Arthur Bremer, who attempted to murder George Wallace in 1972 (the film, of course, inspired another nut to attempt another assassination).

For all her skills, Taubin isn't flawless. She's somewhat ignorant about guns. Her descriptions of what's happening on screen are sometimes wrong. And though she's well aware of its importance, she fails to give the crucial porn-race-gun-dick connection the discourse it deserves. Overall, though, Taubin's essay is well-thought-out, concise and correct; she does justice to Scorsese's great, gory masterpiece.

Taxi Driver, by the way, is the 50th in a planned 360-volume series of essays from BFI, which deserves praise for the series, as well as its inspired pairing of films and critics (dig my girl Camille Paglia writing about Hitchcock's The Birds).

That night at the drive-in, the Pabst was put to good use. It's Scorsese's fault that the condoms went unused.





Taxi Driver, by Amy Taubin. British Film Institute (BFI) Publishing, $10.95.

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