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Exact­ly a year ago, Scors­ese’s restored mas­ter­piece, Taxi Dri­ver, was re-released. Young Robert De Niro trav­els the streets of New York, watch­ing the inhab­i­tants of the city: from the social bot­tom and bad neigh­bor­hoods to future pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. The film was shot almost half a cen­tu­ry ago, but it is a mas­ter­piece that will give odds to mod­ern films. What is so spe­cial about Taxi Dri­ver? Under­stand­ing!

Source: imdb.com

This is anoth­er text of a per­ma­nent col­umn in which I ana­lyze the work with col­or, light and fram­ing in cin­e­ma. The pre­vi­ous one can be read here.

For those who care: there may be spoil­ers in the text

COLOR

Two impor­tant remarks: “Taxi Dri­ver” was filmed in 1976, it is a work with a film cam­era, which com­pli­cates any post-pro­duc­tion and col­or work. It seems that it is worth mak­ing allowances for this and judg­ing from the heights of those years. How­ev­er, the film is so strik­ing in its sin­cere and organ­ic work with col­or that, appar­ent­ly, a dis­count should be giv­en to all mod­ern films where the work of the film crew is not so high.

Sec­ond­ly, it’s no secret what kind of film Scors­ese’s film was shot on. This is Kodak East­man Col­or Neg­a­tive 100T. The let­ter T in the name cor­re­lates the pur­pose of the film (and in film there is such an option) for work­ing with incan­des­cent lamps and arti­fi­cial light. The film was dis­con­tin­ued in 1977, a year after the film’s release. Per­haps this is only an ephemer­al ground of sub­jec­tive hypothe­ses, but if we turn to the only Kodak film series cur­rent­ly being pro­duced (Vision 3), we can trace sim­i­lar moments in behav­ior under cer­tain light­ing and dom­i­nant col­ors.

Pho­tos on Kodak Vision3. Source: lomography.com Users: @cruzomar1297, @agusmenendez, @danteelmejor, @mfb42

See for your­self, if we take a sim­i­lar set­ting of the dark time of the day and arti­fi­cial light­ing, then the green halftones, which we will talk about lat­er, man­i­fest them­selves notice­ably.

So, if the pic­ture of this film inspires you to a cer­tain visu­al­iza­tion of future shoot­ing, then you know what tool to resort to: many lab­o­ra­to­ries (at least in St. Peters­burg and Moscow) buy reels of this film and make their own wind­ing into stan­dard 35mm reels.

Frame from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

Despite the com­plex­i­ty of work­ing with film in terms of col­or, Scors­ese mas­ter­ful­ly solves this issue. The film is full of bright ele­ments and thought­ful work with col­or. The tape opens with close-ups of De Niro’s eyes with con­trast­ing shad­ows and red light in the face.

The talk­ing begin­ning — red is con­sid­ered fatal, bloody and, per­haps, one of the most “loud” col­ors. Per­haps, with such a first frame, the direc­tor hints: the film about a taxi dri­ver is not what it seems at first glance. In the course of the sto­ry, red will meet more than once in the frame.

Stills from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

In a film about a taxi dri­ver, of course, there will be a lot of char­ac­ter­is­tic yel­low cars. In the frame, this bright yel­low bal­ances through the use of a clas­sic scheme on a com­bi­na­tion of cold and warm shades — yel­low and blue. In this case, azure.

Frame from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

How­ev­er, the col­or scheme is tied not only to the col­or of the taxi. Scors­ese fil­i­gree works with her by work­ing out the details in the frame. Take a clos­er look, here the yel­low objects — a taxi, a flower and a bag of snacks — form a tri­an­gle in which the action and the atten­tion of the view­er are con­cen­trat­ed.

Stills from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

In oth­er shots, we see a yel­low dress and a yel­low T‑shirt, and in the fore­ground, a bright yel­low stripe on the cov­er of a mag­a­zine. These seem to be small things, but they add the nec­es­sary accents and make the pic­ture less flat and monot­o­nous.

Frame from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

How­ev­er, despite the char­ac­ter­is­tic col­or of the taxi, one of the main col­ors of the Mar­tin Scors­ese film is still green! The same green that was not­ed above as a fre­quent shade on the cur­rent Kodak Vision, and, there­fore, the Kodak Col­or Neg­a­tive 100T. From light olive to bright emer­ald, depend­ing on the time of day in the frame.

Green pops up here and there, almost per­ma­nent­ly col­or­ing the pic­ture through­out the entire time­line.

Stills from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

Green as one of the main col­ors has already been not­ed in the text about the Black Swan. This is the col­or of anx­i­ety, dan­ger, poi­son, per­haps some kind of swampi­ness, drowsi­ness. The pro­tag­o­nist prac­ti­cal­ly stays in a dream: by nature, De Niro’s char­ac­ter is slight­ly inhib­it­ed, lacon­ic, maybe a lit­tle stu­pid. As if he is immersed in a poi­so­nous state of half-asleep. In addi­tion, the hero in the sto­ry admits more than once that he takes pas­sen­gers in all areas of New York, even not the most pros­per­ous ones. De Niro sees “all the dirt that’s going to be washed off the streets by the pour­ing rain.” It seems that the green col­or should empha­size this.

Of course, we are talk­ing not only about the work of a strong direc­tor who thinks while work­ing with a film, but also about col­or. So what is green with­out an accom­pa­ny­ing red, a com­pli­men­ta­ry col­or to it.

Stills from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

Red in “Taxi Dri­ver”, as we have already seen from the very first frame, is the sec­ond pri­ma­ry col­or. It is red in all this poi­so­nous dope of social trou­ble that is inher­ent in the hero De Niro. Red not only bal­ances with green, but also adds a dis­tinc­tive emo­tion­al com­po­nent to both the film itself and Travis, the pro­tag­o­nist.

Red is the col­or of blood, dan­ger, anx­i­ety and vio­lence. The vio­lence that the hero sees while dri­ving a taxi through the green streets, the sur­round­ing dan­gers, his per­son­al anx­i­ety “for the city”, and, in the end, the blood that Travis sheds. And all this is accom­pa­nied by numer­ous neon, red traf­fic lights, facade col­ors and ele­ments in the frame.

Stills from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

Scors­ese is work­ing on the details here too. Pay atten­tion to the clothes of most impor­tant char­ac­ters in the sto­ry: red dom­i­nates. Even in the scene with Palan­ti­ne’s elec­tion cam­paign, he him­self is wear­ing a red tie, and the woman in the sec­ond row is dressed in a red suit.

Stills from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

More­over, through­out the film, the hero of De Niro is almost per­ma­nent­ly in red images: his check­ered shirts, suit, even trump Cos­sacks — and those bur­gundy red. This is how the author pre­scribes an asso­cia­tive link between just a col­or in the frame, which is designed to cause a back­ground per­cep­tion of anx­i­ety and dan­ger to con­vey the char­ac­ter of the main char­ac­ter, to whom the red col­or is con­fi­dent­ly assigned.

Frame from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese
Frame from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

If you look close­ly, even the col­or of indi­rect details in such shots is well thought out: green glass­es on Bet­sy, the cam­paign slo­gan We are the peo­ple in red, and small items on Travis’ table are also red.

Stills from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

The scene, curi­ous from the point of view of col­or, comes almost to the very end of the film. This is the cul­mi­na­tion of De Niro’s hero’s hazy dream. As if he final­ly wakes up, believ­ing in the idea that has been form­ing through­out the film, or vice ver­sa, falls into a state of pas­sion, which was inspired by per­ma­nent anx­i­ety. Travis is armed with pis­tols and goes to admin­is­ter jus­tice, he is the very rain that should wash away all the dirt from the streets.

Stills from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

Only this sin­gle scene from the entire film is paint­ed in sand-yel­low shades, although it was also filmed at night. Yel­low col­or is ambigu­ous, painful. We can­not know for sure, but an allu­sion sug­gests itself — Rodi­on Raskol­nikov from Dos­to­evsky’s Crime and Pun­ish­ment. That hero was also in a drowsy state of per­ma­nent obser­va­tion, thoughts and anx­i­ety. Do you still remem­ber the school cur­ricu­lum? “He felt stuffy and cramped in this yel­low clos­et, which looked like a clos­et or a chest. Eyes and thoughts asked for space. All roads to the same col­or are clear­ly not ran­dom.

Frame from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

The film does­n’t end there. We see Travis walk­ing through the cor­ri­dor of the yel­low scene with the mas­sacre, and then the direc­tor shows the events a few weeks lat­er. The main char­ac­ter is alive, in per­fect order and again turns the steer­ing wheel in a taxi. Again the usu­al green back­ground and red traf­fic lights. De Niro’s hero smiles sin­cere­ly and steps on the gas. Does this mean that these events did not break his char­ac­ter? Did he find inner peace, like the hero of Dos­to­evsky? Did he come out dry from an anx­ious state?

STAFF

Stills from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

Scors­ese skill­ful­ly works out not only the col­or in the frame, but also the detail of these shots, dif­fer­ent shots. The elab­o­ra­tion of the scene in depth is one of the char­ac­ter­is­tic tricks of Taxi Dri­ver.

Stills from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

The sec­ond main tech­nique is inter­ac­tion with the envi­ron­ment. The frames are very pho­to­graph­ic: the diag­o­nal of the phones, the hero of the poster as one of the char­ac­ters in the frame, the game with the hands of the stat­ue and a beau­ti­ful blur with a focus on only a piece of the frame. With Scors­ese, you can learn to search and think while shoot­ing straights.

Stills from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

There is a lot of neon in Taxi Dri­ver, which is not sur­pris­ing, because a sig­nif­i­cant part of the events takes place at night. Here you can take note of sev­er­al approach­es at once: and use the places paint­ed with lights as strong loca­tions, and the light from the signs, which will help tint the hero for your col­or shoot­ing, and neon on a rainy day with beau­ti­ful reflec­tions and high­lights on the pave­ment.

Here are four more tricks from Taxi Dri­ver to keep in mind for pho­tog­ra­phy:

Stills from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

1. Work with sil­hou­ettes. It is believed that a per­son in the frame must be read and be in bright areas. Scors­ese cross­es it out, show­ing that it is pos­si­ble in a dif­fer­ent way. Par­tic­u­lar­ly note­wor­thy in this issue are scenes with dark geom­e­try of taxi details or a shot with De Niro dri­ving. The actu­al rec­om­men­da­tion for this tech­nique is: don’t raise the expo­sure, but rather low­er it! Leave the rest of the frame in the shad­ows, align­ing only the high­lights.

Stills from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

2. Crop­ping. Shoot­ing in a car seems to involve at least a few shots through the rearview mir­ror: the cam­era­man takes Travis in close-ups, show­ing only his eyes. You don’t have to shoot in a car to use such a strong crop: edit after shoot­ing, leav­ing only the accent piece. The con­trast of emo­tions will be many times stronger!

Frame from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese
Frame from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

3. Shoot­ing from the hip. In fact, the main rule of Lomog­ra­phy. The use of such angles in a crowd­ed place when shoot­ing street will only increase the feel­ing of inclu­sion in the frame, per­haps even its acci­dent if used as an inten­tion­al device.

Frame from the movie “Taxi Dri­ver”, 1976. Direc­tor: Mar­tin Scors­ese

4. Space. Notice how dif­fer­ent­ly De Niro’s char­ac­ter is per­ceived when he walks down a desert­ed street, in a place that is cus­tom­ary to see with numer­ous passers-by. Today, this game of con­trast can also be used, although it will not be easy. We need those loca­tions that involve a large num­ber of peo­ple. And you will have to shoot in the ear­ly morn­ing, when you can catch a shot with­out peo­ple.

Pho­to: ivanproskurin.com

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