Friday, December 26, 2008

Midnight Cowboy

What does an X-Rated Film from 1969 look like? Is it possible that an X-Rated film could achieve a five star ratings (from this humble reviewer) or get nominated and win THREE Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay)? Both Actors in this film were also nominated for Best Actor and in another rare twist, Sylvia Miles was nominated for Best Supporting Actress with a nearly invisible three minutes of screen time. The film would be the groundbreaking Midnight Cowboy. The film was re-rated in 1970, obtaining an R Rating which allowed it to show in more theaters.

Midnight Cowboyset a new standard in film when it was released in 1969. With scenes of gang rape, sodomy, bare breasts and behinds, free sex and open homosexuality, this film crossed the line every way it could. In making a journey along cultural taboos of it's time, this film managed to create a significant piece of cinema. A compelling story of friendship and hardship that transcends the vivid imagery that set this film apart from anything else that had ever been done. Joe Buck (Jon Voight), who is more of a "stud" than a cowboy arrives in New York from his native Texas with big ideas of becoming the next big gigolo. His naivete leads him to get taken for some money by a slick operator named Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman).

Joe intends to extract revenge on Ratso but soon develops a strong friendship with the down-on-his-luck scheister. Joe Buck takes up residence in a run down condemned building with no electricity with his new found friend. Ratso convinces Joe that he needs a manager and sets out to line Joe up with some lonely ladies. Joe is not a very effective gigolo, spending more money than he earns at times. His lack of experience and worldliness has him constantly running into unexpected barriers. After finally figuring out how to turn a profit, his plans for setting up business get put on hold in order to take his friend Ratso to Miami. During the trip, Joe decides to straighten out his life. He suggests to Ratso that they make an honest living in Miami. Destiny has something different planned.

Midnight Cowboywas special on many different levels. For a film from 1969 to hold appeal in 2008 requires a timeless script with a plot and characters that are timeless. The dialogue contains some distinctly sixties terminology, which was actually fresh to hear in the present day. The characters are quirky with some traits that would seemingly make them unlikable. Who would have thought, especially in 1969, that a gigolo could endear himself to his audience? His sidekick, a thief and swindler with filthy teeth, dirty clothes and a constant cough was equally intriguing. They connect with the audience because of their flaws. Their short-comings make them human and their inability to rise above their short-comings causes both characters to evoke a level of empathy from the audience. Waldo Salt did an excellent job of translating James Leo Herlihy's novel to the big screen. The writing was believable creating an interesting story that was anything but predictable.

Midnight Cowboysucceeded by casting two actors who are still performing forty years later. Who would have guessed that both John Voight and Dustin Hoffman would have been nominated for Best Actor...and who could have predicted that both would still be making movies after several decades? The chemistry between these polar opposite characters complemented the writing. Some aspects of the script stretched the imagination, but these two actors brought the characters to life and interacted in a way to make the entire concept plausible. Outstanding performances by both men made this movie exceptional. I know I mentioned that Sylvia Miles eked out a nomination for her brief appearance in this film...but it was a testament to the casting of all the minor parts in this film. There were numerous bit characters that had minimal screen time that did nothing to detract from the exceptional performances of Voight and Hoffman. However, the two stars carried this film, propelling it to a special place in cinematic history.

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