Last night, Martin Scorsese reintroduced his seminal film Taxi Driver, premiering for the first time in the U.S. in a newly 4K digital restoration completed for the film’s 35th anniversary release on Blu-ray Disc on April 5. Writer and director Paul Schrader, who transformed himself from a film critic into a first-class screenwriter when he wrote the film’s script, joined Scorsese and Cappa Productions archivist and filmmaker Kent Jones at New York’s Directors Guild Theater for a discussion before the screening. I attended the event to learn more about the restoration process, hear Scorsese and Schrader wax poetic about their collaboration, and take in the film with fresh eyes. The screening was a benefit for the Film Foundation, the restoration nonprofit that Scorsese heads.
The story of a deranged Vietnam vet who attempts to rid New York of its sleazy underside in his own naively paranoid and eventually violent way, the 1976 film’s original 35mm negative was scanned at 4K resolution and will be projected in 4K and shown in a new 35mm print at theaters in New York and across the U.S. later this month.
More on that soon. But first, the technical specs. Early last year New York’s Cineric first scanned the original negative, which had suffered physical damage, using a custom-made wetgate 4K scanner. Colorworks, led by colorist Scott Ostrowsky and with guidance from cinematographer Michael Chapman, then graded the files on FilmLight’s 4K Baselight system by matching the director-approved prints. MTI FIlm simultaneously completed the digital cleanup frame-by-frame while grading continued, fixing tears, scratches, dust and embedded emulsion dirt, before returning the files to Colorworks’ Baselight for final finishing. I spoke with MTI’s CEO Larry Chernoff before the screening about the challenges of restoring the physical print. “The scene in which Travis is buying his arsenal was badly damaged on the negative,” he told me. “But you’d never know now. See if you can spot anything.” I looked and saw nothing but Bickle’s insistent glare that drives the film to its shocking and electrifying conclusion (the almost-happy ending coda notwithstanding).
Scorsese consulted on grading, framing, repair and the overall restoration and in January this year, Colorworks prepared a 4K Digital Cinema Package that includes a multi-channel stereo soundtrack remixed from original recordings. Bernard Herrmann’s moody score stood out at the screening last night, perhaps more strongly after Scorsese’s story beforehand about how he had to plead with Herrmann to work with him. “I am not doing a picture about Cabbies!” Herrmann told Scorsese initially. “But then he read the script and knew immediately that Bickle was all brass,” Scorsese related.
Preservation expert Grover Crisp, who oversaw the year-long restoration for Sony Pictures and with Paul Schrader introduced the restored film’s European premiere at the Berlin Film Festival last month, was visibly energized by the audience feedback after the screening. “I’m surprised by how many people said this was the first time they’d ever seen the film,” he told me. “In Berlin, we sold out two nights in a 2,000-seat theater. The audiences went crazy for it. A lot of great work went into restoring Marty’s vision for this film. Now people will be able to experience it in 4K at theaters across the country.” Crisp is SVP Asset Management, Film Restoraton & Digital Mastering at Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Colorworks also created a brand new 35mm negative, from which Deluxe made archival 35mm release prints. The restored film will be screened in 4K at select AMC outlets on March 19 and 22 and the New York’s Film Forum will run a limited engagement of the new 35 mm prints beginning March 18.
In my next post, I’ll bring you a full transcript of Scorsese and Paul Schrader riffing and reflecting on the germination and production of their classic film in a moderated discussion by Jones. It’s fascinating and entertaining stuff.
Did you enjoy this article? Sign up to receive the StudioDaily Fix eletter containing the latest stories, including news, videos, interviews, reviews and more.