Everybody Will Be Talking About This Criterion Re-release
“Midnight Cowboy (1969) was the first and only “X” rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It is a very dark and disturbing movie but it is also quite fascinating. John Schlesinger, the director, gives us a very grim portrait of New York City and the people that live there. It is the story of Texas hustler, Joe Buck (Jon Voight) who arrives in New York hoping to score big with wealthy city women and it is very simple and direct. The plot is basically about the friendship between Joe and Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman as a sleazy swindler with a bad leg with a fantasy of escaping to Florida. Together the two men try to survive and get out of the city and movie to Florida. There is an implication that the two may have been lovers (the MPAA saw their relationship in a “homosexual frame of reference”, but the movie is really just a portrait of two damaged men attempting to survive in the cold urban jungle.
Schlesinger uses flashbacks, color which turns to black and white, flash forwards, weird sound effects and many other tricks and they all work quite well. The acting exceptionally fine and the characterizations are well formed. Schlesinger is an inventive director and he handled the relationship between Buck and Rizzo with sensitivity.
Schlesinger did not give into censorship but instead concentrated on the energies of the importance of a strong human connection in life without regard to sexuality.
The movie is entertaining and depressing at the same time. It looks at cultural change and shows how we have been changed from the age of innocence of the 1950’s as we moved into the age of Aquarius of the 60’s.
We get a poignant and beautiful explication of the themes of loneliness and the deprivation of humanity. The characters exist beyond the law and we find ourselves liking them. Jim Buck is endearing because of his optimism and his naiveté even if he tries to be a gigolo and Ratso Rizzo is the common man who we pity as the film progresses. The characters and the motives of the two are interesting.
An interesting fact is that the “X” rating was later changed (in 1980) when it was re-released. That certainly says something about us and how we think. Technically this is a wonderful film and it was revolutionary while being not much more than a simple and sentimental story. The film is no longer the shocking tale it was when first released and it has become a nostalgic look at the way we once thought as it captures the naiveté and upheaval of society in the midst of change. Jon Wright and Dustin Hoffman were legendary screen losers. The complex and tender relationship between Buck and Ratso hints at a homoerotic attraction but that is never explicitly developed.
Although the film has had several DVD releases, this new special edition from The Criterion Collection includes a new 4k digital restoration, multiple interviews and documentaries, screen tests, video essays, audio commentary and much, much more
DVD Features include:
New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
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