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January 29, 2011


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Peter Nellhaus

" . . the originally filmed scene . . . lost". I'm sorry, but I can't buy that line from the film director most associated with film preservation and restoration.

Glenn Kenny

Well, Peter, while Scorsese always had an acute awareness of the need for film preservation, his real come-to-Jesus moment with respect to action happened some time between "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull" with the whole "Once Upon A Time In The West"/Eastmancolor meltdown. Even had that not been the case, there'd be no reason to assume that he would have, or have been given, custodial supervision over "Taxi Driver"'s materials. Those were the property of the studio—theirs to lose, in other words. But that's beside the point, finally; even if the materials in question were readily at hand, Scorsese would not be willing to have them "restored." (And it's further beside the point because a de-sepia-ization could likely be done digitally these days.)

Scorsese's perspective on so-called directors' cuts and such is markedly different from that professed and acted upon by many of his American peers of the '70s; he's adamant that the film as it was released is, for better or worse, the film. And hence, people who kick and scream over Lucas, Spielberg, and Coppola's revisionism now get to kick and scream about Scorsese's refusal to revise.

Bruce Reid

"[Scorsese's] adamant that the film as it was released is, for better or worse, the film."

I've always wondered, has he ever explained why NEW YORK, NEW YORK is the major exception to that attitude?

Bruce Reid

I should clarify, Scorsese isn't required to even have a good reason, let alone publicly offer it. Personal whims are fine. Just curious after Scorsese's statements about CASINO and GANGS OF NEW YORK what made his musical any different.

Fabian W.

"Just curious after Scorsese's statements about CASINO and GANGS OF NEW YORK what made his musical any different."

What was changed or censored in CASINO? Things like the vise-scene, right?


What do we want?
Buckets of NC-17 scarlet!
When do we want it?

Join Wells' crusade? I'd sooner join Orly Taitz's.


@GK: You do know that all this just enables this scumbag to be what he is: a big fucking asshole. Come on, this is a scumbag who seems to take pleasure in his stupid opinions like this and also in hurting and laughing at the misfortunes of others, even when it comes to their death. He's awful and his site is completely unreadable. fans who want real insight come to a geat blog like this. Not a gossip site like Wells.


Wells' every posting is an act of desperation.

I like the look of the climactic scene in Taxi Driver because it gives the scene a look of total filth, as if the lens was covered in caked-on blood or something similar. I kind of wish the whole movie had that look.

Kent Jones

Glenn, I believe the "come to Jesus moment" was in fact a LACMA screening of THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH in the late 70s, part of a Fox show curated by Ron Haver. The print was magenta, and Haver actually tried a filter over the lens (blue, I think).

I don't get the "censorship" part.


Kent, it's the idea that the blood in the massacre at the end is now sort of orange-red, instead of blood red, which was studio imposed. Or so I've heard anyway. That's stretching the definition of "censorship", though.

And I agree with JeffMcM (and apparently Scorsese): the ending looks very appropriately grimy and filthy. It looks great.

Besides, Wells will go after Scorsese given any opportunity anyway. He's shrill and useless and, well, I just do not care for him.


PS - I realize how it must look, me telling Kent Jones something about the making of TAXI DRIVER. I probably misunderstood the source of the confusion.

Glenn Kenny

When I first saw the film, and the switch happens—it's a pretty clear thing, think it's right after he crosses the street—I remember thinking, hey, what's going on here? And then, "boom!" and it's all pretty...unbelievable. And the funny...or maybe I should say odd...thing is, the toning down doesn't render ANY of the violence less appalling and/or sick-making. That's the funny thing; what the MPAA and/or the studio wanted DOESN'T WORK, at least not in the way intended. And on subsequent viewings, the shift always signals something dreadful; a descent (further) into hell. I think complaining about it is just silly, because with the "restoration" of the red, just how much more are you going to SEE, or "see?"

That said, as I continue my spiritual journey and try to become a SOMEWHAT less angry person, I'm more taken aback (is that the right phrase...maybe I mean surprised?) at how pissed-off Wells gets people. I KNOW he's off-base and trivial a lot of the time, but I've come to see him as kind of eccentrically avuncular, albeit in a punchy, whatchoo-talkin'-bout way. Of course, between arguing with him about grain on Blu-rays and arguing with Richard Brody about Swanberg on Twitter, I sometimes feel like I'm beating up a wall myself. And why? You think I could finish a novel if I channelled the energy I put into these efforts into such a thing/


It makes that scene look like something out of one of those sleazy porno flicks that Travis watches. Like a sexual fantasy he's having. And that's brilliant.


@Glenn - "Avuncular"!? Maybe if your uncle was a delusional, abusive bigot, but otherwise, not the word I'd choose.

Kent Jones

bill, no big thing. I believe that MS has been pretty consistent about this issue over the years: it was imposed, and then he was thrilled by the results. Sort of like Hawks and the people who (supposedly) gave him a suitably violent ending for THE BIG SLEEP.

The NEW YORK NEW YORK question is something different. When it came out, it was about 160 minutes, somethng like that. That was the summer of '77. It was re-released that fall with a whole reel chopped out - unless I'm mistaken, the "Billets Doux" moment and the scene where De Niro is escorted out of the club and kicks out the lightbulbs as he goes were gone. Then in...what was it, either '81 or '82, UA decided to give it one more try and re-released it with the cut material reinstated along with "Happy Endings," which had not been included in any of the previous cuts (but the music for which had turned up on the soundtrack). A few years later, when the first VHS edition came out, it included "Happy Endings." Then the first laser edition didn't. Then the deluxe CAV edition did, and now there's a definitive edition, which includes everything.

Dan Coyle

This reminds me of the time Mark Waid got so pissy about Jim Starlin retconning Thanos out of his Ka-Zar arc he actually confronted Starlin on the floor of a convention over it.

Because Starlin, the man who CREATED Thanos, might have had an issue with Ka-Zar defeating him, and that's apparently bad, for the guy who CREATED the character to have an opinion on what he's capable of.

None of you know what the above means, but trust me, it applies here.

Glenn Kenny

Bill wrote: " 'Avuncular'!? Maybe if your uncle was a delusional, abusive bigot..."

Well, I figured that went without saying.

What's funny about our friend's bigotry is that he'll never acknowledge it as such, and he'll always characterize himself as progressive, but a TRUTH-TELLER, which in his mind means calling people out according to racial stereotypes and such. But the fact of the matter is that Jeff has a deep and abiding loathing of ALL mankind, except for that dude with the foofy hair who hooks him up at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

But enough with this. Remember, I still have to see the guy at screenings.

@Dan: Actually, I do know what you mean, up to a point. Remember, I once went to a Halloween party at Bernie Wrightson's.


Isn't presenting oneself as a 'TRUTH-TELLER' basically just a more obnoxious, egotistical way for someone to blare their opinions across the interwebs? Wells's 'I'm right and no discussion is possible' attitude is his worst attribute.

Since real blood has a browner tint than most 70s-style movie blood (which generally just looked like red paint) I'd say the color switch makes the ending look more realistic, too.

Fabian W.

I'm also one of those that think that the color-change makes the scene even more horrific and traumatic - wasn't it influenced by the cinematography of MOBY-DICK?
And I went back and checked, and it seems like CASINO had trouble with the MPAA over the vise-scene. And, as Scorsese himself points out on the commentary track, it's actually for the better: It forces the viewer to focus on Santoro's psychotic behaviour - "Don't make me do this!" - which is, in a way, even harder to take.
It's interesting that Scorsese is able to make these things work *for* instead of against him and his movies - almost like they're happy accidents.

Glenn Kenny

@ JeffMcM: Perhaps so, but tell me, my friend: can you not spare an ounce of pity for a man who can write, completely without irony, "My spirit is spent. I'm feeling so downhearted I'm wondering if I can even sleep tonight" on account of the fact that the fucking "King's Speech" won the DGA Award, and not "Social Network?" Talk about taking it hard. Sure, his "Soviet gulag" stuff is beyond-the-pale offensive, but let's award some points for SINCERITY here!

Back to the blood: My buddy Joseph Failla writes:"To be honest, if you could have seen TAXI DRIVER during its original release on as huge a screen as I did, you probably couldn't imagine the horrific finale being any more dramatic than it seemed that night. [The] desaturation effect add to the newsreel-like appearance of that particular sequence. So my initial reaction was along the lines of 'My God, this is really happening in front of me!' Which is truly rare given that even during the most virtuoso cinematic sequences I've sat through from Hitchcock to Leone, I'm still aware of their artistry and rarely forget I'm watching a film." That said, Joseph adds, "if news ever leaked out that a complete restoration of TAXI DRIVER's original color scheme were to emerge... which of us wouldn't be on line as quick as we could to see the results?" I myself would be curious, sure, who among us wouldn't? But I'm not so curious that I'd be interested in seeing an altered version of the film entire.


Funny thing is, if DP Michael Chapman had said, "Hey, Marty, isn't that red a bit much? Why don't retime it; sepia maybe," and Marty vehemently disagreed until he saw the result, no one would be clamoring for a restoration of the original look. I'd say the moment Scorsese decided he preferred the sepia, it became his "vision."

Also, in the original cut, Sport shot first. :)

Tim Lucas

I will not. It seems to me that, somewhere along the way, I saw the climax both ways -- and in its natural colors, the sequence looks contrarily artificial. The blood is too red, and the scene loses its impact. The sepia tone puts the entire sequence under more than one veneer -- sordidness, trauma and, I would argue, realism. I'm sensitive to color and, when I first saw the film, I picked up on the color change before the violence erupted and was seized by the sick feeling that something terrible was going to happen, that the characters were already in its thrall. All of this is lost otherwise.


I'm with Tim.


"I once went to a Halloween party at Bernie Wrightson's."

It's official: you're my hero.

Tom Russell

@Dan Coyle: I know what you're talking about!

jim emerson

Gee, Scorsese has been quoted many times telling the story of "Taxi Driver" -- how the MPAA suggested he might tone down the color for that shootout sequence and how the result was even more stomach-churning than what was there before. But Scorsese liked it! And the MPAA gave him the R rating.

A directorial decision is a directorial decision -- no matter what the circumstances that inspired it. (As if creativity is always the result of direct intention -- a notion I wouldn't expect Wells to fathom.) Should David Lynch go back and "restore" the original ending of "Blue Velvet" (from a draft of the script) in which Dorothy Valens commits suicide by jumping off the roof of her apartment building? What if Lynch likes the released version of the film better?

The person above who mentioned "The Big Sleep" is right on the money. Hawks's "original version" (in which the plot IS explained) didn't have the scenes that the movie is now most famous for. The studio insisted he shoot some more stuff with Bogart and Bacall, because they'd invested quite a bit in building the actress into a movie star. For once, the studio was right -- and Hawks knew it.

Kent Jones

Jim, it was actually the final confrontation with Eddie Mars I was thinking of, but I think you're absolutely right and I couldn't agree more with your point about creativity not always resulting from direct intention. The habit of attributing absolutely everything in a movie to directorial design doesn't do much for serious criticism.

As you say, MS has been consistent on this point since the movie came out. I guess Wikipedia is wrong. Like that's never happened...

The Siren

"The habit of attributing absolutely everything in a movie to directorial design doesn't do much for serious criticism."

You warm my cold heart this morning, Mr. Jones.

Kent Jones

It's always nice to get a warm word from The Siren.

Too much of film criticism is oriented around "direct intention." On the one hand, writing fixated on what can be easily identified as directorial choices, which often reads like Geometry 101 followed by Basics of Photography; on the other hand, writing in which absolutely EVERYTHING is a directorial choice. Madness.

jim emerson

Kent, Siren: Yes! Attributing everything to directorial design is, perhaps, an unfortunate side-effect of auteurist film criticism. (It's wiser to say "the movie does this" than to single out somebody behind the camera as being responsible for something in particular. The Coens say that when the pelican plopped into the water as they were shooting the end of "Barton Fink," they recognized they had their final shot -- but they didn't plan it that way.) If something is in the movie, it's in the movie -- whether it was deliberately put there or nobody ever noticed it before. All that matters is what's there and what isn't.

That's why it's so fascinating to watch and discuss movies with the people who made them -- you discover how much is, indeed, attributable to "happy accident" in the process of creation. (Remember the story of how set dresser Frank Silva wound up becoming "Killer Bob" in "Twin Peaks" because somebody noticed his reflection in a mirror during a take?)

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