This is not a documentary about the making of Midnight Cowboy. It is about a dark and difficult masterpiece and the deeply gifted and flawed people who made it. It is about New York in a troubled era of cultural ferment and social change. It is about an era that made a movie and a movie that made an era.
The 1969 movie tells the story of two homeless loners who join forces out of desperation and struggle to survive. It features superb performances by Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, spirited direction by John Schlesinger, a brilliant screenplay by blacklist survivor Waldo Salt, and a memorable musical soundtrack. The result was the only X-rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and John Schlesinger’s win as Best Director over George Roy Hill, Arthur Penn, Sydney Pollack and Costa-Gavras! It paved the way for a generation’s worth of gritty, New York-based movies with adult themes and complex characters.
A half century after its release, Midnight Cowboy remains one of the most original and groundbreaking movies of the modern era. It is set in a New York besieged by economic collapse, social unrest, and cultural upheaval in the midst of Black, gay and women’s liberation movements. It heralded the coming of age of Hollywood – a time when risk-taking movies flourished, old rules were shattered, and a new breed of filmmakers took on adult themes and troubled characters never before seen in mainstream films. We look at Midnight Cowboy’s moment and why this movie resonates so powerfully more than fifty years later.
Midnight Cowboy (1969) produced, as well as the tumultuous era in which the movie was released and embraced.