Damn You, Criterion, Why Must You Be So Awesome?

Just found out Criterion’s releasing this title, one of my favorite films since I first picked up a copy of it 29 years ago, on May 29th:

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https://www.criterion.com/films/29369-midnight-cowboy

I’ll definitely pick this up when it’s released, which will make it the sixth time I’ve owned this title on home video since 1989: VHS…LaserDisc…twice on DVD…once already on Blu-ray, and now this edition.

The only gripe I have about this Criterion Blu? No porting over of all the extra features from MGM/UA’s 1995 LaserDisc release, which included Jon Voight’s screen test with Waldo Salt (missing from Criterion’s release), a pair of trailers from 1969 and 1994 (only one of which Criterion will be including)…

…and a then-current retrospective featurette, featuring interviews with director John Schlesinger, Hoffman, Voight, Brenda Vaccaro, and producer Jerome Hellman. Much to my chagrin, Criterion will not be including this supplement on their release.

I was able to transfer those features to a DVD-R before my old LaserDisc player died, but I’d love to have them on a new Blu-ray. Unlike most DVD/Blu-ray special features, I’ve found these particular extras quite re-watchable.

In the featurette, Schlesinger had a criticism about Political Correctness that’s stayed with me ever since:

https://sidewinder69blog.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/what-the-director-of-midnight-cowboy-thought-of-pc-in-the-mid-1990s/

Midnight Cowboy was one of my late mother’s favorite movies. When I mentioned this to my dad, some thirty-five years after their divorce, he replied, “She probably gets off on its depiction of emasculated men”.

Perhaps, I thought, but I doubt that was the whole reason (*). I assumed she enjoyed the film for reasons similar to mine. The picture’s time-capsule aspect, with its snapshot of a long-gone era. The appeal of the film’s cast. The humor in the film, as well as the pathos.

I never thought much of the Ratso Rizzo character. Hoffman played the part for maximum comic effect, and he always gets a laugh out of me, but I’ve never been moved by the character’s plight. He always struck me as a petty conniver and a weasel. The character’s a good catalyst for the plot, though.

The character of Joe Buck (Jon Voight) is the heart and soul of the story, and the reason the movie works for me. The character starts off wide-eyed and naive, a gullible innocent, who’s forced, in very short order, to accept the reality of his poor decision and struggle through it, humiliating as that may be at times.

By the end of the story, when he’s reached the end of his journey with Ratso, Joe Buck emerges a wiser, more mature individual. There’s still hope for the character at the end of the film. That’s the feeling I was left with, anyway, and it continues to be my reason for revisiting the film every few years or so.

 

(*) I found it odd that my dad perceived the entire film as being about emasculated men. Though there are moments in the story when Joe Buck’s pride gets taken down a peg or two by certain women he encounters, I didn’t feel that his character, nor Ratso’s, for that matter, could have been definitively labeled as ’emasculated’.

Then again, I didn’t realize there was any kind of homosexual vibe to Joe Buck and Ratso’s friendship until I watched the featurette on the 1995 LaserDisc. Even now, after 23 years and multiple subsequent viewings of the film, I still don’t see it. If it’s there, it’s pretty subtle.

Which is one of the reasons why the picture remains a classic.

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