Midnight Cowboy collector’s edition (DVD-2006)
Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski
previously on video, laserdisc and DVD, a new DVD 2-disc collector’s edition of Midnight
Cowboy has now been released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
by John Schlesinger and released in 1969, the story centers on Joe Buck, a naïve
young Texas ‘cowboy’ played by Jon Voight who travels to New York City dreaming
of making a living as a male prostitute servicing rich Madison Avenue women. As
harsh reality causes his dream to collapse, he is befriended by a sleazy con artist known as Ratso Rizzo portrayed by Dustin
Hoffmann. A strong bond of friendship develops between the two enabling them
to transcend the nightmare of their existence in New York’s sordid underbelly.
was based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy who had nothing but praise for the film version.
The brilliant screenplay adaptation by Waldo Salt utilized extensive improvisational dialogue from rehearsal sessions
with Voight and Hoffman. The film went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture,
Best Director and Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards. The Best Picture win,
in particular, was remarkable for the X- rated Midnight Cowboy coming as it did
from the conservative Motion Picture Academy in the same year that John Wayne won Best Actor for True Grit. The X-rating had been expected by the filmmakers who considered
it appropriate because of Cowboy’s mature subject matter and sexual content. In
1969, an X-rating meant more of an adult film and was not necessarily identified with pornography.
Oscar wins, Cowboy was then re-released with the ‘X’ changed to an
R-rating --without a single scene or shot having been cut. Truth be told, Cowboy’s ‘X’ would be an ‘R’
by today’s standards. Even so, one of the early TV network broadcasts of
the film cut out all profanity, adult matter, sex content and references to sex—making the plot of the film all but
As a film,
Midnight Cowboy is outstanding in every department—directing, acting, ensemble
cast, sets, art-direction, cinematography, dialogue, story, music, editing, etc. Even
the minor characters stand out including bit parts by Sylvia Miles, Brenda Vaccaro, John McGiver and Barnard Hughes. Jon Voight’s star performance stunned audiences with its earnest innocence at
the time and Hoffman’s more showy performance was equally well-received. Both
are bravura and unforgettable—they shine today with undiminished brilliance.
Schlesinger, hailing from Britain, did not find the film shoot to be enjoyable. Yet, as an outsider
filming his impressions of New
York, his cinematic eye perfectly
captures details, unique aspects of the City, realism and late 1960’s life. His use of flashbacks and quick cuts gives the film almost an art-house sensibility
and enables the director to suggest plot points that never would have passed the late 1960’s censors. And if certain characters in the film express self-loathing, they are true to attitudes prevalent at the
The new DVD
features a crisp film transfer and a three part, informative documentary featuring interviews with Voight, Hoffman, producer
Jerome Hellman and others. Absent are John Schlesinger and Waldo Salt, both of
whom have passed on. Hellman also provides the sole film audio commentary. Although he manages to convey much of what Schlesinger provided in his own audio commentary
for the laserdisc release nearly two decades ago, why that commentary has not been included is a mystery-- as is the absence
of the excellent documentary included on a 25th anniversary video release which also featured Schlesinger. Still, this new DVD is most worthwhile.
is a powerful film about loneliness, friendship and the need for human contact. The
new Sony Pictures Home Entertainment DVD special edition is a most welcome DVD release of a shattering motion picture classic.