Nancy Buirski’s excellent documentary “Desperate Souls, Dark City And The Legend Of Midnight Cowboy” was the perfect excuse to re-think about not just how Midnight Cowboy made such an impact on the world in general but also on me in particular. The time was 1965 and this was British filmmaker John Schlesinger’s fifth movie and the first one he made in the US. This story of two hustlers living on the fringe of the bad side of New York City was so quintessentially American is surprised many people to learn of the Scheslinger’s heritage.
Buirski doesn’t just talk about this Academy Award-winning landmark movie but about how it fit into the world in the mid-sixties. The US was halfway through its 20 years Vietnam War and for the first time, draftees were rebelling about fighting, and potentially dying, in a faraway war that they essentially never knew the cause of.
It wasn’t just the political climate at the time that was a major issue but also the moral climate too. With then-unknown actor, Jon Voight playing a male prostitute with major in-your-face sexual references and also whose on-screen relationship with Dustin Hoffman as the grifter Ratso has heavy homosexual overtones decades before that was legalized. One of the interviewees ….. probably Midnight Cowboy actor Bob Balaban…. marvels that film was made by Universal a major studio …. and adds that he believed it would never be greenlit these days.
As well as Balaban, there was an impressive array of other interviews with Midnight Cowboy actors Jon Voight, Brenda Vaccaro and Jennifer Salt plus Brian De Palma, Charles Kaiser, Edmund White, Schlesinger’s nephew the writer Ian Buruma, and Schelsinger’s’ partner for some 30+ years the producer/photographer Michael Childers. The unexplained absence was Hoffman.
Before Midnight Cowboy and back in the Uk Schlesinger had been a prolific maker of documentaries for the BBC …..one actually won a Golden Lion Award at Venice and also a BAFTA. After that, he made 4 films two of which were Billy Liar and A Kind of Loving, and were hailed as fine examples of realistic kitchen sink dramas which had just become the new hot genre in the UK.
But he was a middle-class gay Jew and so he was never accepted by the likes of Lindsay Anderson and Tony Richardson the masters of the genre. Schlesinger was a complex paradox at times as after Midnight Cowboy in 1971 he made Sunday Bloody Sunday the first overtly bisexual movie and the first gay cinematic kiss ever. However, he was still in the closet at the time.
Midnight Cowboy and Sunday Bloody Sunday are both groundbreaking movies and Buriski does them both a great service by discussing the major effects they had on our culture then and now. I will never forget when Midnight Cowboy came out and how mesmerized I was by every minute detail of the film. Then later by the time Sunday Bloody Sunday came out, I had finally come out too.
This compelling film is a must-see not just for die-hard Schlesigner fans but for anyone curious to know how the 1960s/70s impacted our journeys to arrive at the present day.
P.S. As evidence of how good an actor Voight is years later after playing a liberated hooker, he is now an ardent Trumper!!!!
We reviewed the film as part of Palm Springs International Film Festival : for future screenings contact https://www.augustafilms.com/desperate-souls-dark-city-and-the-legend-of-midnight-cowboy
Review : Roger Walker-Dack
Editor in Chief : Queerguru Member of G.A.L.E.C.A. (Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association) and NLGJA The Association of LGBT Journalists. and The Online Film Critics Society. Ex Contributung Editor The Gay Uk & Contributor Edge Media Former CEO and Menswear Designer of Roger Dack Ltd in the UK one of the hardest-working journalists in the business' Michael Goff of Towleroad
Labels: 2023, Acadmy Award, imoact, John Scheslinger, legacy, Midnight Cowboy, Nancy Bureski