Taxi Driver homage scene in God Bless America
God Bless America, Bobcat Goldthwait’s fantastic, acidic attack on modern American society works as a mix of Bonnie and Clyde and Taxi Driver. It’s the latter’s relationship to Goldthwait’s film that I’ll be looking at here. The similarities are numerous; both tell the stories of two individuals (Frank in God Bless America and Travis in Taxi Driver) pushed to breaking point by the ills of their respective American eras. Travis rallies against the corruption and isolating forces of the 1970s, whilst Frank is ailed by a considerably more modern malaise, those members of society who seem to have been solely nurtured by the numbing influence of pop culture, and the purveyors of said culture. When both characters do reach their limits, both do so in an explosion of gun-based violence, although they meet decidedly different ends. Travis survives his shootout to become a hero (provided that you don’t subscribe to the theory that the last ten-odd minutes of Taxi Driver are Travis’s dying thoughts rather than reality), but Frank is gunned down in a triumphant last stand in the studio of an American Idol-alike show.
Homages to other films are a wonderful way to imbue otherwise normal scenes with a sense of meaning that rewards the seasoned film-goer. This effect can be achieved by anything from the use of the same song, a repeated phrase in the dialogue, or a distinctively similar piece of camerawork. Some scenes, however, go beyond just mimicking one or two aspects of another film, and goes for an almost shot-for-shot remake. The God Bless America scene in question does just that. Both scenes involve the main characters buying guns from an unlicensed salesman, and as you’ll see, there’s no way that so many similarities are just coincidence. I’ve linked to both scenes in full at the bottom, but here’s my breakdown of particularly striking similarities:
Note that both scenes take place in hotel rooms, with both salesman (Easy Andy in Taxi Driver, unnamed in God Bless America) bringing two suitcases containing guns, and both placing their suitcases on a bed. As you’ll see if you watch the scenes below, neither protagonist says more than a couple of words in the scene, and the salesman both share the same overly enthusiastic, excitable mannerisms.
Both scenes feature Walthers and “nickel plated” guns.
Easy Andy: “Ain’t that a little honey?” – Gun Salesman: “Is that a honey or what?”
Easy Andy: “That .38, you go out and hammer nails with her all day, come back and it’ll cut dead centre on target every time” – Gun Salesman: “I could throw this off the roof, I could run this over in my car, I could bury it in the dirt, and dig it up and it would still fire.”
Easy Andy: “How ‘bout dope? Grass? Hash? Coke? Mescaline? Downers? Nebutal? Chloral hydrates? Uppers, amphetamines?” - Gun Salesman: “Is there anything else I can get you while we’re talking about the gun? Blow? Meth?”
And finally, this shot-for-shot comparison:
God Bless America:
What is it that Goldthwait is trying to say by including such a blatant homage to Taxi Driver? That’s a matter of debate. Still, it’s an excellent example of how one film can use another to lend emphasis, create meaning, or generate power in a scene.