Monday, March 5, 2012

Taxi Driver: The Karate Stance Scene



I happened to watch the classic 1976 movie "Taxi Driver" again last night; I remember seeing the movie in the theater when it came out.
All star cast: Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle and Jody Foster, masterfully directed by Martin Scorsese.

Among the dark themes was this one scene I had forgotten about; De Niro as Travis is stalking Cybill Shepherd into the political campaign headquarters she works at. As a co-worker attempts to kick De Niro out, he drops into a classic Shotokan-style Karate stance and freaks the co-worker out.

This reminded me of the influence that traditional martial arts had on cinema and the American psyche. Karate and Kung Fu were depicted as unstoppable in the era of the 1960's-70's. People realized that there was no fair fighting in those styles where you could loose an eye or suffer major breaks and dislocations. Not exactly your typical schoolyard fisticuffs.

In the summers during the '70's I was working cattle on ranches in Oregon. The older cowboys (some were pretty tough athletes) would talk about seeing fights in big urban cities. One was between a couple of hippies and a couple of Black Panthers. One of the Panthers popped a hippie's eye out with a hand strike. Another spear-hand strike went up the other guy's nostrils and split his nose in two.

Back then, you never really knew who was trained in these arts. They may have been crude but effective, and struck fear into the hearts of wanna-be tough guys.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

There's a novel by Peter S. Beagle (of "The Last Unicorn" fame) called "The Folk of the Air". In it, several characters are discussing the proliferation of martial arts and how no weapon goes unused forever. "The air will be so full of killer reflexes and ancient disabling techniques there'll be a blue haze over everything" (pg. 169 in my copy). This was a book from 1986 (although parts of it were from 1977).

It seems that idea of unknown numbers of people learning who knows how many deadly unarmed combat techniques was fairly widespread.

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