Monday, 21 June 2010

Midnight Cowboy (1969) - An American Classic

Midnight Cowboy (1969) dir: John Schlesinger

This makes the list as one of my all-time favourites.  Made at the start of that strange, reflective period where big studios backed risky films about isolation, loneliness and urban paranoia, it throws us into a world of hustlers, losers and poverty.

It takes two unlikeable characters stumbling through the arse-end of a bitter landscape, shows us how they think and dream, doesn’t really ask for an ounce of sympathy - and yet have us care for these men, even though we probably shouldn’t.

The film begins in dusty Texas, but moves from relative poverty to the squalor of a dirty metropolis as Joe Buck arrives in New York, full of dreams, running from a sketchy past that is cleverly hinted at through hazy recall/flashbacks.

Nightmares and fantasies collide in a dazzling variety of styles and techniques, but grim reality is never far away. As winter sets in, Joe degrades his shallow aspirations (and himself) in order to get by - yet, in doing so, is confronted with aspects of his subconscious that drive him into dangerous territory.

Voight and Hoffman are mesmerising but it’s director Schlesinger who captures the alienation of the big city like never before. Waldo Salt is the unsung hero, adapting the novel for the screen.  I still find the last shot of the movie heartbreaking.

Oh - it also has a great soundtrack. I swear that period of American cinema has never been bettered.

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