Influence of Sound on Taxi Driver
Sound is one the most underrated influences on development of character, narrative, and aspects of the movie genre. One such movie that had great sound design was the movie Taxi Driver that came out in 1976. The most influential parts of the movie that include sound are the dialogue, sound effects, and music. All three of these categories move the development and narrative of the movie forward, portraying changes in character as well as storyline. For Taxi Driver sound played a major part in the movie. Using these three categories of sound, this essay will show how they made the movie an everlasting classic example of sound design in movies.
Dialogue plays an important role in how the Robert Deniro’s character, Travis Bickle. In Taxi Driver there are instances where Travis Bickle talks to himself. Lines such as “Twelve hours of work and I still can't sleep. Damn. Days go on and on. They don't end,” portray Travis as an insomniac and also very alone. Also a very important part of the dialogue is the silence we hear when Travis is on the phone with Betsy. The conversation we hear is one sided and you can hear the pain in his voice as she doesn’t succumb to his advances. Of course, the scene where Travis is in front of the mirror saying “You talkin to me?” is a turn in the narrative and the character development as Travis fully loses his mind and the gun becomes an extension of him.
Sounds effects in the movie added greatly to the feelings of isolation and loneliness that Travis felt throughout the movie. The use of diegetic sound effects made the audience feel what Travis was feeling at the time. One classic example in the movie is the use of the Effervescent Alka Seltzer tablet during the scene with Travis and the time with the other cab drivers. As he puts the tablet into the water, the camera zooms into the glass of water that is now fizzing, and the sound drowns out any other sound that is made. You can hear the other cab drivers talking but the increasing volume if the fizzing overcomes the scene, making it the only thing you can pay attention to. The is a great use of symbolism as the drowning out of the other diegetic sounds is a metaphor for Travis’s life. He feels that he is drowning, and not really present. It brings the person into Travis’s mind at the time, and adds another element to character development.
The soundtrack, created by Bernard Herrmann, is one of the best soundtracks made for a film. It contains deep, ambient city noises and juxtaposes it with the sounds of a saxophone. This portrays the duality that is present in Travis’s mind throughout the movie. The busyness of the noises in the soundtrack represents the city and the various instrumentations juxtaposed to it relates to Travis’s mindscape. This soundtrack shows how Travis feels lonely in a city that is filled with people. It was also the last soundtrack of Bernard Herrmann, and arguably his greatest creation. With the addition of Travis’s voiceovers during the soundtrack, it made for an even greater description of the mental anguish of Travis.
Overall, sound design had a huge impact on this movie adding another dimension to which the character and narrative are explained. The sound made you feel what Travis was feeling, delving the audience into his mind. It made a person think what Travis was thinking and feel what Travis was feeling. Sound plays an important role in movies, especially in Taxi Driver and the film would not have the same impact if it did not have the same sound design.
Taxi Driver. Dir. Martin Scorsese. By Paul Schrader, Bernard Herrmann, Marcia Lucas, Michael Chapman, Tony Parmelee, Frank E. Warner, Shinichi Yamazaki, Jackson Browne, Keith Addis, and Tex Rudloff. Prod. Michael Phillips, Julia Phillips, Phillip M. Goldfarb, Dick Smith, Charles Rosen, Herbert Mulligan, Les Bloom, Ruth Morley, Irving Buchman, Mona Orr, and Dan Perri. Perf. Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle, and Cybill Shepherd. Columbia Pictures Presents, 1976.