In the coming weeks John Schlesinger’s raw and haunting ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (1969) will reach its fifty year anniversary and to mark the occasion will make a reappearance on screens across the UK. A significant anniversary worth celebrating as it proves the durability of ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and that even now half a century later, the film still holds the same level of social relevance as it did in 1969. It also shows that amongst the bombardment of comic book movies and horror remakes there is a home on UK screens for a gritty cult classic to impact a fresh audience and reconnect with those who may have been touched all those years ago. The film follows a naive, hustling cowboy named Joe Buck (Jon Voight) as he moves from Texas to New York seeking financial gain and a better life. However the big city is more than he thought and it takes a new friend to help him navigate this strange and unforgiving place.
Both Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight put up monumental performances in roles that are poetically vulnerable. They cement both actors as forces to be reckoned with amongst the many rebellious faces who were taking the industry by storm during the ‘New Hollywood’ era. Voight’s Texan Joe Buck is a big fish from a small pond who has just been washed up into the big city with a whole lot of confidence, and the outfit to match. He is a brutal deconstruction of the American Dream. At first glance he’s a cowboy venturing out into uncharted territory like those from a time long before, however it doesn’t take long to become clear this is a land he cannot tame. His unlikely navigator is ‘Ratso’ Rizzo, played to perfection by Dustin Hoffman. A slimy, down and out cripple who’s sole focus is survival in a world that has forgotten him and Hoffman’s full body performance is a masterclass in method acting. The dynamic between both characters feels totally natural as their friendship deepens, relying on one another as they try to make ends meet.
‘Midnight Cowboy’ at its core is about adaptability, survival and change. Schlesinger attacks these themes with a raw honesty. Done so through stark cinematography which shows the characters and the city in it’s true form. The city is cold, grey and unwelcoming as are the people who inhabit it. The so-called American Dream is laid out bare for all to point and stare, if there is a dream to seize Joe Buck doesn’t find it in Times Square or the Statue of Liberty. Backed by a bittersweet folk soundtrack that perfectly captures the sombre, hollow hope of our protagonists. It is a true film of the counterculture which successfully portrays the critical mindset of American society. A mindset still very much alive fifty years on.
Written by Conor Crooks
STAR RATING –★★★★★
Question: Has Midnight Cowboy stood the test of time for you?
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