John Schlesinger directed this masterpiece about the crumbling American dream. Joe Buck (Jon Voight) is a hustler from Texas. Fed up with waiting tables, living in a sun soaked nightmare and generally leaving to escape nightmares, he dreams up a plan to move forward in his life. He relocates to New York and is in search for easy money and ladies who lunch. New York is a world away from the dust strewn wasteland of Texas. There are more inputs and less outputs then Joe thought. Money is harder to make and easier to spend. When he meets Enrico Rizzo (or Ratso to his freinds), his luck might be about to break. Ratso has a connection that could pay off for Joe. A man that knows many lustful people that want a nice strong cowboy buck to call their own. Problem is that when your expectation is too high, you will come crashing down like a stone…
Yes many of you will at the very least know the facts. It won best picture being the only film (then and since) to win as an X rated picture. It coincidences with the rise of the American New Wave. Its director was an openly gay man (a rarity in that day) and made films that challenged with content and context. However what is less known is that the film stand up even today. Sexuality aside for the moment, it is the depiction of unrelenting despair that creeps through the film which is awesome. New York was seen not as Tiffany’s diamond emporium or a vinaigrette of places to sit and gawp at. No the place became grimy and dirty. Characters that were just normal guys, have dreams that are not of the universal. They do not want to work in dead end jobs, they want to work it out with hustling. Sex or pimping, crime and grifting people out of their wears. Even when they might have dreams of making it big via this, they are stuck in worlds that do not capture or even reflect them. Schlesinger was gifted at subverting the world of film. From BILLY LIAR to DARLING, he constructed people as active in worlds they either have to dream away or face harsh reality. Here it is executed with a sting which even today is hard not to be roused by.
4K comparisons reveals that the original DVD version I owned is terrible. The washed out start has been made more visually interesting and the whole is tonally more compelling. The high point is director John Schlesinger and producer Jerome Hellman, which I have never heard but some suggest is elsewhere. Schlesinger is funny, English and his insight of being a foreigner in a foreign land adds to the power of Midnight Cowboy. Adam Holender is short but details the lens use, light use and complexity of filming like an expert.
SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES:
New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio
Audio commentary from 1991 featuring director John Schlesinger and producer Jerome Hellman
New selected-scene commentary by cinematographer Adam Holender
The Crowd Around the Cowboy, a 1969 short film made on location for Midnight Cowboy
Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter’s Journey, an Academy Award–nominated documentary from 1990 by Eugene Corr and Robert Hillmann
Two short 2004 documentaries on the making and release of Midnight Cowboy
Interview with actor Jon Voight on The David Frost Show from 1970
Interview from 2000 with Schlesinger for BAFTA Los Angeles
Excerpts from the 2002 BAFTA LA Tribute to Schlesinger, featuring Voight and actor Dustin Hoffman
PLUS: An essay by critic Mark Harris