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Midnight Cowboy

Midnight Cowboy  

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  1. 1. Does Midnight Cowboy belong on the AFI List?

    • Yes
      8
    • No
      3

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  • Poll closed on 06/21/19 at 07:00 AM

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Posted (edited)

Paul & Amy walk into 1969's New York hustler drama Midnight Cowboy! They look for meaning in the song "Everybody's Talkin'," ask whether Jon Voight's babyfaced features make him the perfect Joe Buck, and marvel at how modern the film still feels. Plus: More of your picks for horror films that could make the AFI list.

 

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Edited by DanEngler

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First of all, please bring Mark Harris on the show for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid so that he can talk about that film, Midnight Cowboy, and all the other 1969 films he broke down in his book "Pictures at a Revolution," and for that matter, bring him on as well for The Best Years of Our Lives so that he can talk about William Wyler and the rest of the directors he analyzed in "Five Came Back."  (Of the five directors who served in WWII that Harris talks about, three of their first post-war films are on the AFI top 100: Best Years of Our Lives by Wyler, Treasure of the Sierra Madre by Huston, and It's A Wonderful Life by Capra.  Stevens and Ford would also have later post-war films made in the 50s make the list with Shane and The Searchers respectively.)

As for Midnight Cowboy, I'm not as willing as Amy is to sweep all the problematic aspects under the rug, but certainly hearing her defense made me feel more rosy about the picture as a whole.  It's still a film that I like more than I love, but I have no qualms about it deserving a place on the list.

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Yea Amy is helping me a little with one too.

I still find the film fairly superficial and think it doesn’t say all that much, really, beyond extreme hopelessness (which maybe is enough). It definitely a movie I’m finding I can’t stop thinking about though.

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While I think my opinion mostly aligns with Paul, I’m in the “Amy has swayed me” camp too - lol. I’ve gone through an evolution of sorts with MC. The first time I watched it, I hated it. The second time, I enjoyed it a little more, but could easily take it or leave it. And this time, while I wouldn’t say I “loved” it, I certainly appreciated it more. Like others have said, it really sticks with you afterward. Hearing Amy discuss it just confirmed for me that it definitely belongs on the list (even if I don’t have any plans to re-watch it any time soon).

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1 hour ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Yea Amy is helping me a little with one too.

I still find the film fairly superficial and think it doesn’t say all that much, really, beyond extreme hopelessness (which maybe is enough). It definitely a movie I’m finding I can’t stop thinking about though.

That's kind of how I feel about it. Compelling, but maybe a bit shallow in its message? Amy makes a good case, though I do NOT agree that this film does the same things Taxi Driver or The Graduate do and I'd keep both of those on the list before Midnight Cowboy. But the latter is clearly a very influential work so I'm not mad about it staying on the list.

I'm kind of with Roger Ebert on the Andy Warhol party scene. I've always found that part pretty dull.

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I wanted to expand on me calling it 'superficial' as I keep pondering that. I think my main issue is all these points that they mention on the pod -- homosexuality, his mother, self-identity, earlier trauma, being raised by TV, even Vietnam I guess -- are raised so minutely in the film that I feel like it's just all on the surface. I take this movie as very straightforward almost, which maybe is at odds with its rep or intent. I see it as just about a guy with some sort of misguided dream, who meets another guy with a similar misguided dream.

*edit to note that sycasey simulposted a similar explanation. :)

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Saw this movie for the first time a few days ago and really love it to bits, it was much funnier than I thought it would be and made me wonder if this was a major influence to Gus Van Sant's  My Own Private Idaho. 

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Good story about Hoffman and being competitive with colleagues: in the early 80s, I saw a preview performance of Death of a Salesman on Broadway, with Hoffman playing Willy Loman. I was fortunate enough to have been given permission to visit him backstage after the show. When I went into his dressing room, there were four people in there. DH was sitting on a chair at the end of the narrow room. Sitting adjacent on a couch, talking intensely to Hoffman was Arthur Miller. Hoffman was clearly listening carefully, nodding his head, taking it in. Though I was chatting a bit with the other two people, not wanting to bust into the conversation at the far end of the room, but I figured how often does anyone get to hear Arthur Miller giving notes to Dustin Hoffman about his performance in what's considered to be one of America's greatest plays? I positioned myself closer so I could hear what they were saying. And the part I heard was: MILLER: You're playing against a very strong Biff, now. HOFFMAN: (nods, murmurs agreement. MILLER: You understand? HOFFMAN: Absolutely. MILLER: He's very strong. You've got to hold your own. HOFFMAN: Exactly....   Now, in my view, Hoffman certainly held his own, turning in a great performance. (Which I saw get even stronger in two more performances.) But after hearing that little bit of conversation, in subsequent performances, I couldn't help but thing that Hoffman and the young actor playing his son Biff -- who was, in fact, very strong in the role -- had some kind of competition going. Most likely, it served to fuel each of them to commit fully, giving everything they had to their performances. The competition (if there was one) only improved their work. (Oh, and that actor playing Biff was a 30-year-old guy from a Chicago theater company called Steppenwolf. His name was John Malkovich.)

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I had a very strong reaction to Midnight Cowboy. I watched it blind, meaning I had no idea what it was about or any of it's history. While I definitely didn't get that these two guys were supposed to be idealized (I  guess the way some people seem to have interpreted Travis Bickle), I had no idea why I should care about them. I found the flashbacks to Joe Buck's experiences in Texas to be entirely confusing and muddled. After hearing them discuss the book and how dark his time was in Texas, I could have understood his character and maybe developed a little sympathy for his ... eccentricities? To me, they seemed to be two guys willfully bumming around NYC (oh, that era NYC!!) deluded into thinking they can sell Joe's body for sex while neither of them has any clue how to interact with women. I see the intent of the director, but I think the vision failed for me. 

Also, I mean... John Voight and Dustin Hoffman. I can't get past who either of them turned out to be. 

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22 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I wanted to expand on me calling it 'superficial' as I keep pondering that. I think my main issue is all these points that they mention on the pod -- homosexuality, his mother, self-identity, earlier trauma, being raised by TV, even Vietnam I guess -- are raised so minutely in the film that I feel like it's just all on the surface. I take this movie as very straightforward almost, which maybe is at odds with its rep or intent. I see it as just about a guy with some sort of misguided dream, who meets another guy with a similar misguided dream.

*edit to note that sycasey simulposted a similar explanation. :)

Precisely! I felt like there were hints at commentary on homosexuality, TV influences, masculinity, and the rat race, but none of it landed. There wasn't enough meat on anything to really make the point.  

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The walkman wasn't invented until 1979.  You can't fault him too much for playing the radio on the bus.  I guess it depends how loud he was listening to it.

The flashback editing (associating memories with what they're seeing) seems to ape Resnais' style in at least Hiroshima mon Amour (1959) - though by the end you do get the full expository, traditional, flashback.  I'd have to rewatch Muriel (1963); Je t'aime, je t'aime (1968) and Last Year in Marienbad (1961) to see if he also did that exact same technique in there. I want to say yes on Muriel.  For Je t'aime, je t'aime think the flashbacks were more traditional in the transition (since there was a scientific device for time travel, so technically not flashbacks.  Though they did separate other experimental things, such as change the actress who played his wife in different scenes, IIRC).  And I don't think Marienbad had flashbacks.

That said, I think the flashbacks were the most interesting part of the movie.  That and the scenes of Buck's initial homelessness.  And the transition from being a fake Texan coming to New York, to looking like he might be a fake New Yorker coming to Miami.  I felt the stream of consciousness fantasy for Dustin Hoffman in Miami went on for too long, but overall my two biggest issues were raised in the Ebert review.

1. If you were to excise the flashbacks from the movie, you would barely have any indication that Joe Buck suffered what should have been an incredibly traumatic event.  Like, in anything, like mannerisms... anything.  The best explanation I could come up with was, he didn't know how to emotionally handle it, and just really, really repressed it, which makes the violence at the end actually make more sense.  He would just be kind of not emotionally right inside in terms of violence, but gets by day to day in denial about everything (and not thinking about it).

2. I don't really get why him and Ratzo really bonded over anything other than being in proximity and time passed.

And the next big issue is just, the turn of events by getting invited to the party just felt like such a sudden change of fortune, it seemed jarring, and not in the intended way.  Though that's less of a fundamental problem I had than the previous two.

I enjoyed this movie a fair amount actually.  Listening to the episode afterwards though, hearing Ebert emphasize the problems I did have with it, makes me more iffy on saying yes or no if I'd put it on my hypothetical ballot for the list.  That said, I liked it better as a movie than probably most things we've seen so far.  But not Taxi Driver.  Or Apocalypse Now.

ETA: On the Overlook feedback, Paul said he didn't know if TCM was too... something (unpolished?) to be on the list.  Maybe, compared to what else in on the list, but fwiw it's #183 on the BFI sight & sound critics list (The Shining and Don't Look Now are also somewhere in the 101-200 range.  The Exorcist didn't get many mentions in the poll/i.e. low spot on the list).

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On 6/15/2019 at 11:10 PM, ol' eddy wrecks said:

The flashback editing (associating memories with what they're seeing) seems to ape Resnais' style in at least Hiroshima mon Amour (1959) - though by the end you do get the full expository, traditional, flashback.

I think I'm being more disparaging than intended by saying, "ape."  Mimicing another's technique (and allegedly, Resnais didn't believe in the concept of stealing.  He had a line about ideas are in the air, no single person came up with them.  Or something to that extent), but doing it well is justified.  I think my big issue is the memories in Midnight Cowboy start off with the grandmother and mother seems connectable to a person who would think "I want to go to NYC to be a hustler," and ends with a traumatic event that just doesn't seem to connect with what we see in the present day.

Anyhow, I also checked, the American, neo-noir, Point Blank (with Lee Marvin) came out in 1967 also had flashbacks triggered by what's currently happening.  IIRC (and it's not a given that I do), they spend a longer time in the flashback, so, unlike Hiroshima or Midnight Cowboy, it feels less like a passing/immediate thought, and more like a flashback.  But the random jumping/triggering does have that image association quality, quick cut, that is more implying transition of thought of the main character rather than transition of narration as presented by the director.

 

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On 6/15/2019 at 11:10 PM, ol' eddy wrecks said:

I'd have to rewatch Muriel (1963); Je t'aime, je t'aime (1968) and Last Year in Marienbad (1961) to see if he also did that exact same technique in there. I want to say yes on Muriel.

I re-watched Muriel and was mistaken. Lots of disorienting time-lapse cuts (that also shifts the camera angle), but no types of flashbacks.

A fair amount of Resnais' work involves the issue of memory and how it remains with us.

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