Saturday, November 29, 2003


Here's another film that makes me look at The Canon of Classic Film and wonder, "Why is it that so few people have seen Midnight Cowboy? And why have so many seen Breakfast at Tiffany's?" I seethed my way through the film version Breakfast at Tiffany's because I think that Truman Capote was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. I also usually like Audrey Hepburn's work. But I was insulted and apalled with what they did to the story.
But I digress. This is the Midnight Cowboy review, which was a film that I really loved. I was being a bit facetious before. I actually have a good idea why more people haven't seen this film. The main reason is that in the enlightened age of 1969, they felt that they needed to give it an X rating. There's much more sex and nudity in Clockwork Orange or Last Tango in Paris. The main reason Midnight Cowboy was cursed with the mark of X is that it admits that were a cowboy to become a hustler on the streets of New York, he would most likely meet a few homosexual men at work.
The other big reason, and probably more potent reason, why more people haven't seen this film is that it's a meditation on loneliness and the true nature of romantic love. Not popular topics. The assumption that romantic love exists without grueling labor and has some magic ameliorating power (and the assumption that the audience agrees with the film maker's assumptions) is a popular topic. They made a whole genre out of that assumption called romantic comedy, some of which is truthful and some of which is propaganda from companies that profit from you holding certain beliefs. A naked inspection of the topic makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
As for the film its self, it's based on a book that I actually have in my inventory (and can be purchased through Alibris online or by sending an inquiry to I haven't read the book.
I guess the main reason I had such a strong reaction to this film was that it spoke to me so directly. It addressed my fear of abandonment, my frusteration at being alone in the world, and the memory of love as being imperfect and often quite ugly. There's also the earthly observations on our capacity to create hell and heaven in our lifetimes. All of this is why I should have read the book and, at the time of writing this, should still read the book.
And then there's the performances. John Voight was seamless. At no point did I think about him pretending to be Joe Buck. He was Joe Buck.
Dustin Hoffman is one of those actors who can either get you really pentecostally excited about acting or just make you quit. I can't emphasize enough what a masterwork his performances was in this film. It's ridiculous. They should have stopped making films with actors right after Midnight Cowboy.
I'm getting silly, so I'll wrap this up.
My one critique for this era of film is that they really hadn't mastered the concept of selling the soundtrack within the film. The Graduate is a better example, but it happens here as well (with Nilsson no less.) They get a song or two from a popular musician of the day and play the holy crap out of it. Midnight Cowboy had the good sense to have a noticable score as well (by John Barry no less.) But speaking as a guy who takes a lot of walks, I don't appreciate spending the next week's worth of walks thinking, "Everybody's talking at me..."
But I don't want to end on a negative. Go rent or borrow Midnight Cowboy the next time you're in the mood for a romantic comedy. Please.


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