Review by Gordon Justesen
Hoffman, Jon Voight, Brenda Vaccaro, John McGiver, Ruth White, Sylvia Miles,
Director: John Schlesinger
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 113 Minutes
Release Date: May 29, 2018
“I’M WALKIN HERE! I’M WALKIN HERE!”
Sometimes I feel I should have my movie review rights taken away. There are some things that are simply inexcusable, such as the notion that it has taken me this long to finally see Midnight Cowboy. Even the phrase “better late than never” feels a little, well, too little too late.
But here I am, now finally seeing director John Schlesinger’s much cherished 1969 Best Picture Oscar winner, in addition to being the first and only one ever with an X rating. I can definitely say that all the acclaim it has garnered it is near 50 year existence is certainly well justified. It was certainly unlike anything that came out at the time, and it’s raw and distinctive qualities certainly hold up when viewing it today.
Joe Buck (Jon Voight), is a super naive cowboy from Texas who has a dream. That dream is to make it to New York City and become the ultimate street hustler. The only talent he possesses is making love, and he’s been told there are plenty of wealthy and lonely women in the city who are willing to pay for it.
Once he sets foot in the Big Apple, he soon learns the city is far from what he was expecting. The one woman he lands turns out to be wanting money for her services. And before long, Joe is more down on his luck than he was in his Texas stomping grounds.
He then has a chance encounter in a bar with Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a crippled and ailing con artist who offers to introduce Joe to a highly established escort service. But Joe soon finds himself swindled out of money once more when he ventures to meet the supposed escort manager, who turns out to be the complete opposite of what Rizzo was promising. Joe later runs into Rizzo at a coffee shop and after a brief scuffle, the journey and unlikely bond between these two characters begins.
The acting in this film is of monumental caliber. Voight, a then unknown, got the role of a lifetime for a first timer and threw everything into the performance. The end result ended up solidifying him as a great actor in the making.
As for Hoffman, who at this point was an overnight success following The Graduate and had been rejecting almost every script that came his way, this would be the performance that would help make him a legend. He went to great lengths in terms of method acting to ensure Rizzo would be a character that audiences would never forget long after the movie was over. And it’s amazing to note that, such as the case with Voight, he had to fight to get the part.
If anything, Midnight Cowboy is one of the key representations of the golden age of filmmaking that dominated the 60s and 70s. And being that it came out the same year as Easy Rider, it really illustrates just how a rebellious year 1969 was as far as filmmaking was concerned. Few films were simultaneously boundary pushing and fully acclaimed as this one, and that in itself is most remarkable.
I tell you, fewer words bring more joy to me than that of “Criterion” and “4K restoration”. Criterion’s pristine handling of their growing library through this form of film restoration is continuously resulting in some of the grandest video transfers to ever exist since the dawn of the digital video format, and this release is a truly prime example. Sourced from a 4K restoring process supervised by cinematographer Adam Holender, the picture quality breathes even more life into that of late 60s New York. Though this is my first experience with the film, I can’t possibly imagine any previous incarnation of the film measuring up to the immense visual splendor provided here. A great example is the sequence where our characters venture into an Andy Warhol-esque psychedelic art party, where in which the colors burst onto the frame in a sumptuous and mesmerizing form (and no, I wasn’t high at all while watching). If you’ve never seen the film and have always wanted to, Criterion’s Blu-ray transfer is a clear indication that now is the time to do so!
Sound-wise, Criterion has fully knocked it out of the park for this nearly 50 year old release! Wisely, they have included the original mono presentation along with the 5.1 DTS HD mix that was provided on the previous Blu-ray release. You get your moneys worth with both sound mixes, as the DTS mix will fully immerse you even more in busy sounding atmosphere of NYC, the mono mix actually has a potent quality in its sound balance and is more in tune with the time period. Of course, the big highlight is music provided, especially that of Nilsson’s classic track, “Everybody’s Talkin”, which as never sounded better!
Criterion has delivered one of their absolute best lineup of extras of the year with this release. Included is a commentary from 1991 featuring director John Schlesinger and producer Jerome Hellman, as well as a new video essay with commentary by cinematographer Adam Holender and a new photo gallery with commentary by photographer Michael Childers. There’s also “The Crowd Around the Cowboy”, a 1969 short film made on location, as well as “Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter’s Journey”, an Academy Award–nominated documentary from 1990 by Eugene Corr and Robert Hillmann. We are also treated to two short documentaries from 2004 on the making and release of the film, an interview with Jon Voight on The David Frost Show from 1970, in addition to Voight’s original screen test, an interview from 2000 with Schlesinger for BAFTA Los Angeles, excerpts from the 2002 BAFTA Los Angeles tribute to Schlesinger, a Trailer and an insert featuring an essay by critic Mark Harris.
Though I was late to the party with Midnight Cowboy, I’m nonetheless delighted that I was able to see why this is such the cherished classic film it has become, and that it hasn’t become the slightest bit dated despite truly being a product of its time. Criterion’s Blu-ray release is an absolute must own release!