I’ve written before about my former life as the co-editor of PROP magazine.
I was reminded of an article in PROP issue 6 about TAXI DRIVER (1975) while compiling the list of cinema of self-referential quotes. PROP was predominately a poetry magazine featuring a hand-picked selection by my friend Steven Blyth. He was the driving-force and was able to attract contributions from established poets as well as recognising new and emerging talent. To differentiate ourselves from the other small magazines being produced at the time, we decided to have a wider scope of content. We looked for the long essay, short-short fiction (with plenty of incident, almost impossible to find) and opinionated reviews. By issue 6 we were beginning to get into our stride and it was shaping up to our vision.
Looking back on it now, it seems like something of a time-capsule for Winter 1999. There’s a thought-provoking piece by Adrian Slatcher (a regular contributor) about the role of the novelist in the dawn of the new Millennium and a critique of Modernism’s attempts to stretch the novel as a form, suggesting that it achieved little other than to distort it out of shape. There’s also a piece where I ruminate over the idea of putting PROP online, and whether or not this internet thing will actually catch on. Really.
I was also the author of the TAXI DRIVER piece that was contributed under a pseudonym (something that we occasionally did to boost our credibility using editorial magic, until Liz Kershaw came along and spoiled it for everyone).
‘Only psycho-killers know the way I feel tonight’ was a reflection on Travis Bickle as an existential hero. I was uneasy with the interpretation of Bickle as a psychopath, it seems too dismissive. I recalled how fellow members of the Film Society where outraged by my suggestion that he is a sympathetic character. His reaction to the world seems perfectly reasonable in the context of the increasing privatisation of human society and the alienation of the metropolis. He’s a product of economic conditions rather than a distorted psychology.
I explained that I have had ‘Travis Bickle Moments’. The members of the Film Society disagreed and were alarmed that, “I was aligning myself with a bête noire of modern cinema.”
In the piece I argue that Bickle is a literary rather than cinematic figure and as a consequence has more in common with existential characters from modern literature such as Sartre’s Antoine Roquentine: “(he) seems to embody the sensibilities of our age.”
TAXI DRIVER is a pre-Star Wars film, so cannot appear in my canon of films: Schrader, Scorsese, De Niro and Herrmann have not done anything better (Herrmann died, of course, which probably explains why).
I’ve reprinted the article here if you are interested in how I nearly assassinated John Major.
By the way, I still have Travis Bickle moments.