Midnight Cowboy (1969) – John Schlesinger (Dir.), Jon Voigt, Dustin Hoffman
Ah. Back in the game. And it feels good, people. My good friend and resident dragon, Ryan, picked this bad boy out of the hat. And believe me, it’s a bad boy. More specifically Jon Voigt getting all kinds of naked up on old ladies/young boys/his mother/Bob Balaban (WTF?) for money…while failing miserably. This is one of the movies that inspired the whole game, one of those classics swirling about in the ever undulating cloud that precipitates the Flix of Net. I have never seen Midnight Cowboy. I know! What the hell? This movie is iconic. From Dustin Hoffman looking like he went through a Danny-Zuko-turd-juicer to “Everyone’s Talking At Me” playing at me every fucking thirty seconds of film. This is the movie that popularized the infamous “HEY! I’M WALKING HERE!” that is heard by nobody in New York ever because it is never said, you stereotyping jerk. Well, people say it a little.
So, story. This is a dandy little film about a dandy little cowboy from Texas who, instead of cleaning dishes, decides to go to New York and sell his body for money. He makes this decision in the first thirty seconds of the movie. You’d think other people take time to weigh the moral and medicinal implications of such a career move. But not Jon “You Used to Want to Bang My Daughter” Voigt. He pulls on his boots, gets on a coach and heads to the Big Apple, where he wanders around generally looking charming and idiotic, hitting on ladies until one of them (who I suspect is a Phyllis Diller impersonator) invites him up. But he forgets to discuss money. I mean, come on, we all know that Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy, especially when E’ryday He’s Hustlin’ (a different kind of hustle, I feel, than is intended in that song). Anyhoo, after failing miserably at mankind’s oldest profession, he meets up with Dustin Hoffman doing an impression of either a rat or Martin Scorcesse. I can’t tell. Either way, it’s horrifying. What we’re given is a fucking dark descent into the lives of two people who are really not very good at what they do and yet they’re always fantasizing about how great everything will be.
More than anything, I kept finding myself comparing this flick to Darren Aronofsky’s heroin-addled laugh-fest of the century Requiem for a Dream. If you haven’t seen that movie, get any children under the age of thirteen and watch it in a single sitting. Do you remember that part in Oedipus Rex where Oedipus rips out his own eyes because he fucked his mom? You’ll do something similar, just replace your mom with the phrase “Ass to Ass”. *Shudder*. Both movies depict people taking up a line of work that is certainly on the other side of questionably moral. Both movies depict these people as being totally in over their heads. Both movies depict them dreaming of some final goal that will obviously never be achieved. While one has Dustin Hoffman dying of the consumption, the other has electro-shock therapy, Jared Leto getting mutilated (that isn’t a spoiler, he gets mutilated in every movie he has ever been in. That’s science. Look it up) and the phrase ‘Ass to Ass’. *Shudder*.
Specifically what I loved about both films was the use of fantastical imagery and breaks from reality interwoven into each scene. While Dream kinda shows off it’s technical dong, waving about fancy new-fangled camera techniques, Schlesinger goes with the age old: “here’s a non sequitor. And something weird. And a five year old giving his mother/aunt/make-it-stop an orgasm by way of a back rub.” I loved it. As the movie progresses we get to chip away under the skin of this prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold-and-a-head-filled-with-stupid and see what’s really going on. That sunny disposition and flippant disregard for his sexual safety come from a dark place. And then, just as I’m getting into the film, our old pal ‘Random Gang Rape’ makes an appearance. That guy always shows up in these ‘good’ movies to harsh my vibe. It makes sense. It doesn’t come out of nowhere and it is sad as hell. This isn’t intensity on an American History X level, but it sure isn’t Yo-Gabba-Gabba. Wow…what if Yo-Gabba-Gabba had a special guest: ‘Random Gang-‘. Never mind. Stop there.
The team behind this movie has fucking pedigree. Well, at the time they didn’t, but we all know them. We’ve got Jon Voigt before he birthed super-star Brad Pitt and played every villain in everything ever and we have Dustin Hoffman pre-Outbreak. I know people would probably say Rain Man is his defining role, but those people haven’t seen the cinematic bliss/divinity/perfection that is Outbreak. Kevin Spacey bleeds out of his eyes! Cuba Gooding Jr. is…well, in it! Made of win. Sorry, back to the point. This movie is also from John Schlesinger, who directed one of my favorite movies of all time: Marathon Man. Where else can you have Sir Laurence “Sir Laurence Olivier” Olivier slitting people’s throats with a hidden retractable wrist-blade? It took the video game community thirty more years to come up with something comparable! Unfortunately, this guy doesn’t have much else on his filmography that stands out except for maybe the awesomely British made-for-TV movie Cold Comfort Farm. Unfortunately, that knowledge alone infringed upon my enjoyment of this film as I was constantly hoping Voigt would suddenly reveal he was an escaped Nazi and then slit some old broad’s throat. Alas, he did not. Hoffman got seriously fucked up though. So at least that’s a common theme.
The directing is fantastic. The script is fantastic. The acting is fantastic. Basically, if this movie were a tall Joe Buck standing outside a movie theater, I’d be a mousey Bob Balaban (again…what the fuck?) doing his best to be Rick Moranis before Rick Moranis even existed, approaching him asking him if I could suck his manhood. That got graphic. But hey! This is about prostitution. I have no qualms. If there is anything to take away from this movie, it would be 1) I think Angelina Jolie cut off her father’s face Hannibal Lecter-style and wears it to this day, 2) ALWAYS get the money first. No kissing on the lips. Gets complicated. And 3) New York used to be a shit hole. I lived there for a hot second. It’s a nice city, especially now CEO and Evil-Overlord Bloomberg has turned Broadway into a fucking cafe. Even Times Square isn’t as nauseating as it used to be. Well, it is. Just in a different way. Back then, New York could give you a staff infection if you were just speeding by it on the New Jersey Turnpike, it was that nasty.
So, kids. Remember. Watch Requiem for a Dream and ALWAYS get the money first. That’s a message directly from your Uncle Andrew.