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The advantage of being young, naive and egotistical


Taxi Driver: The best movie of my career
Michael Chapman Film-maker
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First we just talked, and... yes and talked about movies and talked Godard, and... because in those days Godard was everywhere, you know, and we were watching, we... and... and I... I probably was the only low-budget cameraman in New York that he talked to, who had... who had seen as much or more Godard than he had, so that's probably why I got the job – that plus that I can talk very fast. And then, you know, I read the script and... and I... I mean it's... it's a marvelous script and it's a marvelous movie; it's... it's kind of sad to say that of all the movies I've shot, it's the one... it's the one I'm proudest of and it was only the third movie I ever did – that kind of life was all downhill from there, in a weird way. But it was amazing – amazing script and... and jobs of acting and everything – oh my God, what a movie, and it really does hold up, you know.

And by then I'd begun to figure out the sort of minimal lighting that one could do in... in the right... it's a lit movie, it's not... it.. it pretends to be a... a documentary, but in fact it's quite theatrical – it's not realistic at all, you know; in... in many ways it's not... not meant to be realistic. It was just... it's emotion and there's... you know, he's walking up the street and they divide... dissolve the middle out of the shot and then he's walking this way, and then he's right up here, and there are many parts of it that are not documentary; it... it's a documentary of their emotions, not... not a documentary of their lives. A documentary of... of Travis Bickle's emotions and the other people's, and it's a documentary in that sense, but it's quite... it's quite deliberately theatrical. Marty is a theatrical director and... and, I mean that as a... a... you know, in pride, it's a wonderful theatrical director. And I... I lit it, and... and very deliberately lit it meant to be light, not meant to be documentary, although I didn't do huge amounts, and some of it is just a matter of letting you see enough to see, but sometimes that... it was meant to be dramatic lighting, you know, to... to point the eye to where to look in the frame, where to look to see what Travis is doing; I mean it, it's an outrageous movie, he burns... burning roses and things – I mean, it's preposterous... not preposterous, but it's like an opera, you know; it just woos along; it's wonderful.

And again, you know, I don't know whether we knew how wonderful it was as we were doing it – I can't remember – but I... I mean I... not that I can't remember, I think that we... we didn't know whether we knew or not, you know; we knew that some scenes, and certain moments were way, way out there and wonderful, but whether it all added up and whether it made sense and everything, I don't know that we knew it – I didn't know it, I certainly didn't know it. Maybe Marty did, you'd have to ask him, but I sure knew that some things were... you know, that famous scene in front of the mirror – you're talking to me and all that – but when you saw it, just being there you couldn't... I mean, it was... I'd never seen anything like it before, you know. I'd never seen a... I'd never seen a... a scene in a movie like that, and we knew that was pretty good and that various other things were pretty good, many things. It's... you know, there's a... he goes to buy a gun and... from... from a guy who was an old friend of Marty's actually – from a gun dealer in Brooklyn – and... and he... he holds the gun like that, and he moves the gun across there and the camera goes with him and follows, and over the gun you see people walking down and you know this is... this is theatre, this is not documentary, this is... That's a great shot. Yes. It's a great shot, it's a wonderful shot. And... and it's full of that... it's full of... it's a documentary of their emotions, you know, he... and the famous thing where he's calling her on the phone and trying to get a date and she won't talk to him, and he's going on and finally the camera's so embarrassed, the camera just dollies away from him and won't look and looks down the hall, you know, this is... this is theatre, this... well, this is movies, not theatre, this is… but this is artificially induced, you know – I mean, very consciously thought out, with a point, not just to document it, but to document the emotions. Camera... I think it was Marty who finally said, you know, 'The camera's just so embarrassed that it... it doesn't want to watch anymore'; it sort of dollied downward and then you hear him going on and on pathetically, you know: 'Well, did you get my message and did you get my...' And then he walks into the frame and walks off into the night, and it's... it's horrible; it's so ghastly and embarrassing.

Michael Chapman (1935-2020), an American cinematographer, had a huge influence on contemporary film-making, working on an impressive array of classic films including 'Taxi Driver', 'Raging Bull', 'The Lost Boys' and 'The Fugitive'.

Listeners: Glen Ade Brown

British Director of Photography and Camera Operator Glen Ade Brown settled in Los Angeles 10 years ago.

He has been working on features, commercials and reality TV. He played an instrumental role in the award-winning ABC Family series "Switched" and is also a recipient of the Telly and the Cine Golden Eagle awards for Best Cinematography. He was recently signed by the Judy Marks Agency and is now listed in her commercial roster.

Tags: Taxi Driver, Jean-Luc Godard, Martin Scorsese

Duration: 4 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008