Saturday, November 08, 2008

"Midnight Cowboy" (1969) - Movie Review

“Midnight Cowboy” in 1969 was X-rated when that rating did not go to the porn industry. It has scenes of explicitness that would have been shocking in 69 but it is not the shock but the disturbance out of it. Yet there is a bloodless killing in this film which would be the innocence of Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and in a deeper sense of his would be buddy Ratso (Dustin Hoffman). Hoffman’s character tries hopelessly on calling him with his original name Rico. Even the film does not credit him as Rico in some kind of a cruel tragedy.

A young and one tall drink of glass Joe sets out from Texas dressed up as a cowboy heading to the city of New York. He is out there to be a hustler and the fantasy of being paid for pleasure. He is not a cowboy but want to use that exoticism to his favour on attracting his customers. He only finds every street with a macho smoking cowboy in New York. He does soon find some one to get laid only to be paying out of his pocket to console a crying lady. He does not belong to that place and he is haunted by his past given in a dreamy hallucinogenic fashion.

“Midnight Cowboy” is a tale about the tragedy of innocence. In their aspiration for sexual business and the survival instincts to steal, there would be a considerable prejudicial argument of their naïveté but when those are skinned off, what lay is two men who think they are smart and are in denial of their dumbness. That makes them a cute little puppy, the difference though that they do not have a good owner to take care of them. Off the two, Rico is the better one, well at least for the mind part. Dressed in dirt and smoking half thrown cigarettes while swallowing his own phlegm, his health disintegrates as the film nears the end. He while mocks and in fact cons the naivety of Joe also invites to the dungeon of his asylum when confronted later by him. Thereon these two men begins to slowly care for each other and in the days of those times, the thought of the gay couple would not have been popped up that openly as now. Did they love each other? Yes. Are they gay? I guess it does not matter.

Joe is the charmer and his reason for dressing up as a cowboy and having a fantasy land generated in the New York City would not need any reason as it becomes clear that his method for solving problem is to leave the place. While it is not clear of his past in fragments of images, we wonder how he managed to make sex as his selling point after that traumatic experience. In his mind everything works out well and good. You provide the service and get the money. And this should be a pleasant experience is his view because in his town women are at least sexually subtle. He is startled, threatened and even roughed by some of the ladies he meets through his failing business.

John Schlesinger’s film is a note on the dream most of the times the runaways to Los Angeles would arrive. Generally it would be the young girl falling out in the dreariness of the city and finally giving up to the system which swallows and spits them out. Some how the male chauvinism imbibed in us has denied thinking the same for men and “Midnight Cowboy” is a brave way of putting it out. Hoffman and Voight make those simple scenes amongst the male ego into the tenderness governed to bring a soft feeling into us.

Our sympathy for their despair does not get low on their inability to consume their situation and make an attempt for regular job for a living. When they climb that bus to Florida, we know the likelihood of their destination but we care for them to make a better life out there. Joe comes out of his innocence and understands the place for what it is but more than that he understands what he is and the whole deal of hustler being an idea to be dreamt and remains in that place forever.

What I begged the most out of the film is a background score. A back ground score which should have disturbed their moulded apartment sunk with sadness and reeking filth with a somberness of their emotions. A soothing score which lifts up in coddling their bare naked gullibility of what reality feeds them. The song “Everybody’s Talkin” sung by Harry Nilsson does has a melancholy, humour and hope to it but a piano through the wind of the violin would have made this the perfection it misses by an insignificant amount.

The sadness is a powerful feeling. That is the reason the films winning the awards or the critical acclaim are mostly sad films. It is a feeling leaving with heavy heart because the characters we come to care go helpless and we want to help them. In “Midnight Cowboy” there is a peace made with the audience of the inevitability of these characters and the lesson they will eventually learn in a very hard tragedy. Hence while the impact of their sorrow leaves us sad, there is an acceptance which keeps us calm.

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