director John Schlesinger
What movie won Best Picture at the Oscars the year you were born? This bit of random trivia links John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy and I. And though I had never seen it before, I was well aware of the film, from many points of culture, but notably from issue #134 of Mad Magazine (1970) which featured a parody titled “Midnight Wowboy”. I wonder how many movies I experience first as a Mad Magazine parody?
The only X-rated film to win Best Picture, it’s an item very much of its changing times, a portrait of America, American dreams, big city blues, somewhat abstract storytelling, and a compelling friendship that may also be a tacit love relationship. Of course, that latter thing is between Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and Rico “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), the tubercular, gimpy greaseball. As Buck’s story unreels in flashbacks, I’m not entirely sure what happened to him, though the image of sexual exploitation is clear enough.
It deals with homosexuality in a way that was no doubt daring for its time, but also probably very emblematic of it. I think it’s funny that it was the film’s “homosexual frame of reference” that nabbed it its X-rating. Typical, quite typical. Buck and Rizzo’s relationship, and the performances by both Voight and Hoffman, cement the film and have made iconic if somewhat cartoonish figures as ultimately iconic as those roles have been taken.
That Harry Nilsson “Everybody’s Talkin'” number nails the vibe at the beginning of the film and then about 15 minutes in starts wearing super thin (before disappearing until the end again).
It’s a well-made film, and entertaining enough. But I don’t think I totally loved it. I can say that this is one I can finally check off the lifelong movie bucket list at last.