I just returned from a special screening of the restored Taxi Driver (1976) at AMC Phipps Plaza: a very unusual opportunity–in Atlanta, at least–to see a 4k digital restoration of a film projected in its native format. (The Blu-ray disc downsized from the same restoration streets on April 5.)
The fifty-odd spectators looking forward to a spiffed-up tour of Scorsese’s cinematic Inferno barely escaped getting dragged by thousands of gleeful imps into a Hell of an entirely different, more terrifying sort: the Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston comedy Just Go With It. It seems that an inattentive projectionist forgot to boot up the correct file. One person sitting next to me pointed out, this wouldn’t have happened if it were a 35mm print. At least it didn’t take very long to fix the problem.
Still, after tonight’s viewing I think that 4k digital projection is a viable alternative to 35mm prints for films originally shot on 35mm. I didn’t spot any of the burnt-out highlights that crop up from time to time in HD video-originated material, and the film’s original grain structure was very much apparent. The restoration itself properly maintained the look of Seventies film stock, but since Sony went directly to the original negative for the digital restoration, the image had greater density and especially had better color–those infernal reds!–than the other versions I’ve seen over years. The main exception is the final shootout, which is still heavily desaturated as it looked during its initial theatrical release.
Paul Schrader’s script, with its voiceover diary entries, is a dark and perverted mirror of Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest. (In case you doubt this, Schrader even tosses in a throwaway reference to stomach cancer.) The film as a whole remains a brilliant tour-de-force, but there is one thing that continues to bug me: if Travis Bickle is really so uneducated and out of touch that he doesn’t know the word “moonlighting,” then why does he use the word “venal” in his diary? Still, Robert De Niro is so convincing that he makes the role come painfully alive. Harvey Keitel is also indelible as the pimp–I would go so far as to say that his insidious slow dance with Jody Foster represents his absolute best work as an actor aside from Mean Streets. I’ve seen Taxi Driver many times on video, but that scene stood out unexpectedly on the big screen.
For more about the film’s restoration, see Grover Crisp’s interview on The Digital Bits.