Midnight Cowboy (Awards Series) is a previous DVD version re-released with a cardboard slipcover.
“I’m walking here! I’m walking here!” Smart money says you’re familiar with that quote whether you’ve seen this film or not. Midnight Cowboy was a hit back in 1969, and it’s been referenced plenty of times in pop culture since.
John Schlesinger’s film, which took home Oscars for best picture, director and adapted screenplay, was also controversial back in ’69, as it received an X-rating. For the record, it’s the only X-rated film to ever win one of those golden statues. For today’s standards, Midnight Cowboy has been re-rated R.
That doesn’t mean you won’t find anything beyond your comfort zone in this film. The intriguing, depressing and controversial story follows Joe Buck (John Voight, Ali), a tall drink of Texas water who heads up to New York City to make his fortune servicing rich New York women. Joe’s got charisma, but he’s naive and way out of his element. Early on he meets crippled conman Enrico ‘Ratso’ Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man), who promptly cons him out of twenty bucks. As Joe continues his downward spiral, he develops a friendship with Rizzo, and the two men form a co-dependent partnership, with Rizzo acting as Joe’s manager. Together, they struggle to survive life in an unforgiving city.
The film is more “art house” than mainstream, with plenty of psychedelic sequences strung together, usually offering viewers bits and pieces of Joe’s back-story. The cinematography includes a lot of unique angles and interesting shots. Visually, it feels highly creative, but also strange at times.
Thematically, it’s a pretty tough film. It’s depressing to watch a likable guy like Joe Buck fail miserably in some really awkward circumstances, and despite Rizzo’s reprehensible traits, it’s hard not to feel empathetic for them both. And there’s no way out, as the film has no happy Hollywood ending, or even a heartbreaker with an uplifting twist. It’s just plain sad.
As for the performances, Hoffman and Voight are both fantastic, though I’d put the former a notch above. I’ve read many comments arguing that neither actor has been better in any other film. That’s a strong statement, considering the careers these guys have had. I’m not sure I would agree, but I’m hard pressed to suggest a rebuttal. Voight has the charm, optimism and naivetÃ© of Joe Buck down pat, while Hoffman is completely transformed, different than I’ve ever seen him. That’s about all I need to say about that.
So Midnight Cowboy is a depressing work of art with fantastic performances. How’s the DVD?
Midnight Cowboy (Awards Series) is presented on one double-sided disc, with 1.85:1 widescreen on one side and 1.33:1 full-screen on the other. For this review, I’ve focused on the widescreen version. It looks surprisingly good, considering it was originally released more than 30 years ago. I’m assuming the film source was from the 1997 theatrical re-release, as there’s no mention on the box about film restoration. In any case, the picture is fairly sharp, colours are consistently natural, and contrast is good. You can tell it’s old, of course, but still, this is a pleasing transfer.
The main audio presentation is English Dolby Digital 2.0. It sounds ok, but shows its age more than the video. Dialogue is always audible, but levels are inconsistent and the score seems a bit hollow and overly bright. That said, it is fairly clear, so you’ll get used to the track and it won’t get in the way of your viewing experience.
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
Midnight Cowboy (Awards Series) is a bare-bones release. The only extra here is the theatrical trailer from the 1997 re-release.
Midnight Cowboy is definitely among the most artistic best picture Oscar winners, and the film stands up well more than 30 years later. However, this “Awards Series” DVD is just a repackaging of a previous bare-bones release, so for the full package you may want to check out the available 2-disc collector’s edition.