Magazine article American Cinematographer

Midnight Cowboy

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Midnight Cowboy

Article excerpt

Midnight Cowboy (1969) Collector's Edition 1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced) Dolby Digital 5.1, Monaural MGM Home Video, $29.99

Almost 40 years before Broke-back Mountain, a similar degree of controversy surrounded the release of Midnight Cowboy, perhaps the original "gay cowboy movie." From its stark opening shot of a dilapidated drive-in movie screen to the final shot of tropical bliss juxtaposed over a doomed couple, John Schlesinger's drama, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, remains a unique and groundbreaking film.

Thrown together by chance in Manhattan's seedy Times Square, a just-off-the-bus Texas hustler, Joe Buck (Jon Voight), and a crippled petty thief from the Bronx, Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Huffman), form an unlikely pair. Savvy Ratso tries to assist Joe in his quest to be the ultimate ladies' man, seeing a way for both of them to benefit. The two men eventually commit to each other as they travel through the darker side of Manhattan, finding only failure, and they begin to nurture the hope of escaping to Florida, where the tubercular Ratso can breathe "better air" and Joe can attend to lonely matrons.

When Schlesinger and producer Jerome Hellman decided to commit James Leo Herlihy's novel Midnight Cowboy to the screen, they tapped a now legendary roster of talent that included formerly blacklisted screenwriter Waldo Salt and future ASC cinematographer Adam Holender (Panic in Needle Park, Blue in the Face). Holender had established a strong reputation in the commercial world but had yet to shoot a feature. In capturing the film's worlds - seedy Manhattan, Joe's Texas and Ratso's Florida - he faced several challenges. He and Schlesinger felt the urban sequences should be grim and unpleasant, so the cinematographer underexposed his negative, creating a cool, grainy image that conveys the tone perfectly. For Joe's flashbacks of Texas and Ratso's many fantasies of Florida, Holender overexposed by as much as 2 stops to create a washed-out halo effect, heightening the dramatic contrast between those sequences and the urban material.

MGM Home Video's recently released DVD of Midnight Cowboydoes an admirable job of translating Holender's work to the small screen. Although there have been several home-video incarnations of the picture, including an excellent Criterion laserdisc in 1992 and an even more impressive MGM laserdisc (which benefited from the studio's restoration of the picture) in 1994, the only DVD incarnation prior to this was a single-platter, bare-bones edition released in 1999. …

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