A movie, good, bad aliases indifferent, is ever “about” something. But immoderate movies are astir much things than others, and arsenic you watch “Desperate Souls, Dark City and nan Legend of Midnight Cowboy,” Nancy Buirski’s rapt, incisive, and beautifully exploratory making-of-a-movie documentary, what comes into attraction is that “Midnight Cowboy” was astir truthful galore things that audiences could descend into nan movie arsenic if it were a portion of their ain lives.
The movie was astir loneliness. It was astir dreams, sunny yet broken. It was astir cheery antheral sexuality and nan daze of really seeing it, for nan first time, successful a awesome mobility picture. It was astir nan crush and alienation of New York City: nan godless actual carnival wasteland, which had ne'er been captured onscreen pinch nan telephoto authenticity it had here. The movie was besides astir nan larger intersexual gyration — what nan scuzziness of “free love” really looked like, and nan overlap betwixt nan homoerotic and hetero gaze. It was astir money and poorness and people and really they could tear your psyche apart. It was astir really nan warfare successful Vietnam was tearing nan psyche of America apart. It was astir a caller benignant of acting, built connected nan realism of Brando, that besides went beyond it.
And it was astir love. Jon Voight’s Joe Buck, that rangy Texas bully ol’ boy pinch his fringed buckskin overgarment and his jutting-front-teeth grin and his sexy agleam naïveté, and Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso Rizzo, sweaty and unshaven, agelong hairsbreadth greased back, hobbling done nan streets, hording his alteration successful a footwear pinch a spread successful it and nary sock — these 2 had thing successful communal isolated from that they were losers, hanging by a thread, and only aft a while did they recognize that they had thing successful nan world but each other.
The risky, offhand greatness of “Midnight Cowboy” is that nan movie, while it knew it was astir a batch of these things, besides didn’t cognize it was astir a batch of these things. More, perhaps, than immoderate different formative New Hollywood landmark (“Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Graduate,” “Easy Rider”), nan movie channeled nan world astir it. “Desperate Souls, Dark City” tells nan communicative of really “Midnight Cowboy” sewage made, and really nan group who made it — nan head John Schlesinger, nan screenwriter Waldo Salt, Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, and James Leo Herlily, who wrote nan 1965 caller connected which nan movie was based — took nan principle of who they were and poured it into a individual imagination of what we were seeing onscreen.
As a documentary filmmaker, Nancy Buirski (“By Sidney Lumet”) comes astatine you from a heady impressionistic angle. For each its tasty anecdotes, and location are tons of them, “Desperate Souls” is little concerned pinch accumulation warfare stories, pinch nan mundane nuts and bolts of really “Midnight Cowboy” sewage made (we spot nan celebrated segment successful which Ratso bangs connected a car and shouts “I’m walkin’ heah,” but don’t get nan accustomed communicative astir shooting nan scene), than pinch nan affectional metaphysics of really a movie astir a blinkered hustler and a bum loser came to embody what Hollywood was becoming: not a dream mill but a truth factory, an eerie moving reflector of who we were.
Jon Voight, now 84, gentler than his combative offscreen governmental image would suggest, is interviewed successful nan film, and he tells a bully communicative astir really Schlesinger, connected nan past time of shooting successful Texas, was despondent, convinced that he’d made immoderate self-destructive misfire astir “a dishwasher who fucks each these women.” Voight, struggling to reassure him, said, pinch nary existent conviction, that this was nan movie they’d each beryllium remembered for. It ne'er occurred to him that it mightiness beryllium true. That’s because “Midnight Cowboy” collapsed truthful galore rules that nary 1 could person guessed it was really rewriting nan rules.
We’re shown a surface trial of Voight, earlier he’d nailed nan drawl, but you still spot why he sewage nan portion — he was already investing Joe Buck pinch a belief successful himself that would transportation nan assemblage done nan movie. “Midnight Cowboy” was framed arsenic an adventure, almost an old-fashioned one: good-looking kid from Texas heads for nan large city, fresh to make it arsenic a gigolo, and nan quality of movies is that we’re rooting for him. But arsenic soon arsenic he meets Sylvia Miles, we cognize he’s successful complete his Stetson-wearing head.
Buirski digs into nan life of John Schlesinger, and reveals him to person been a courageous elephantine of a filmmaker. Born successful 1926, he came from an upper-crust British family and was poised betwixt nan fears shared by cheery men astatine nan clip — homosexuality was still a criminal offense, notably successful Britain, wherever nan cops made a wont of entrapping men successful cruising spots — and nan truth that his family knew who he was and accepted him for it.
The movie demonstrates really truthful galore of nan imaginative decisions that defined “Midnight Cowboy” sprung from Schlesinger’s revolutionary impulse to scatter aspects of queer consciousness and acquisition each complete nan surface successful nan discourse of a awesome Hollywood production. The segment successful which Joe, having realized that his stud enactment pinch women is not going to salary nan bills, picks up a young instrumentality (played by Bob Balaban) who goes down connected him successful a movie theater; nan segment successful which he picks up a middle-aged man (Barnard Hughes) and winds up gay-bashing him successful a edifice room; moreover nan flashbacks to Joe and his young girlfriend, Annie (played by Jennifer Salt, nan girl of screenwriter Waldo Salt), getting pulled, naked, retired of a car by roughnecks successful Texas — Schlesinger invested these scenes pinch a passion, sleaze and panic that he ripped retired of his ain experience.
The realism didn’t extremity there. I was 11 erstwhile I first saw “Midnight Cowboy” astatine a drive-in theatre pinch my parents, and while segment aft segment etched itself into my imagination, nan infinitesimal that haunted me, that virtually upended my position of nan universe, was nan 1 wherever we spot a man, collapsed connected nan sidewalk, being ignored by midtown pedestrians. You could reason that nan truth that he’s well-dressed, and is laying correct successful beforehand of Tiffany, makes nan segment unrealistic. Yet I’ve seen bum people, collapsed and unconscious connected nan sidewalk, successful caller months successful New York City. What that infinitesimal successful “Midnight Cowboy” captured was nan caller indifference that was defining our world.
That would go an indelible taxable of nan ’70s, expressed astir brilliantly successful Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” pinch its huffy swirl of characters astatine erstwhile interacting and brushing correct past each other. But successful “Midnight Cowboy,” it was each astir really nan infinitesimal was shot. Schlesinger, moving pinch nan superb cinematographer Adam Holender, filmed it for illustration a grainy, caught-on-the-fly documentary. He made it real. (“Bonnie and Clyde” and “The Graduate” did not look for illustration documentaries.) In doing so, he efficaciously erased nan statement betwixt what happened onscreen and nan life offscreen.
“Desperate Souls, Dark City” captures what a disarmingly friendly movie “Midnight Cowboy” was, but nan documentary is besides an effort connected really nan movie acted arsenic a benignant of portal: a transition from nan aged world to nan caller one. The full thought that Joe paraded himself arsenic a “cowboy” wasn’t conscionable a intersexual fetish; it embodied what a man utilized to beryllium and wasn’t anymore, extracurricular of nan seductive realm. The professional J. Hoberman takes america wrong really nan Western, pinch its progressively rootless cowboys, had go an allegory of Vietnam (in fact, it was nan only movie shape past dealing pinch Vietnam, extracurricular of John Wayne’s absurdly jingoistic “The Green Berets”). And nan writer Charles Kaiser makes a superb relationship betwixt nan illness of belief successful nan American strategy represented by Vietnam and nan emergence of cheery liberation. If we were being lied to astir nan warfare — astir really we sewage into it, its existent purpose, if it was “winnable” — then possibly nan doorway was unfastened to believing that nan demonization of homosexuality was a lie, too.
In that way, nan very “collapse of values” that courses done “Midnight Cowboy” carried a unusual existent of hope. You perceive that dream successful nan music: successful nan burble of Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” and successful nan stunning melancholy devotion of John Barry’s harmonica-led taxable music. Yet nary one, from Schlesinger connected down, could person expected nan movie to go nan paradigm-smashing occurrence it did. Its triumph astatine nan Oscars was nan astir powerful testament yet to nan movie industry’s acceptance of nan emergence of nan New Hollywood, though nan truth that John Wayne, astatine nan aforesaid ceremony, won champion character for “True Grit” revealed that nan manufacture was still looking successful 2 directions astatine once. Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn was nan existent (fake) cowboy; Voight’s Joe Buck was nan clone (real) cowboy. In 1969, they represented nan yin and yang of what movies, and life, could be. As “Desperate Souls, Dark City” truthful eloquently captures, they were 1 dream giving measurement to another.