MIDNIGHT COWBOY (50 YEARS LATER)
A friend on Facebook asked me this morning why I chose Midnight Cowboy as a favorite personal movie. This does seem like an odd choice. It’s rather dark and depressing and not the typical film associated with inspiration.
I didn’t plan on writing this up, but since my answer wouldn’t fit into a simple post, I decided to create a new thread, and ultimately this article, which is admittedly very personal to me. I hope this will answer the question about Midnight Cowboy and its continued impact, 50 years after it was released.
Initially rated X when it was released, the film was shocking for its time. It was part of a tidal wave of cinematic creativity following the MPAA’s relaxation of restrictions and implementation of a rating system. I was eight years old when I saw it. Think of that in all its implications.
All movies are viewed with an impenetrable prism, and that prism is our own experience and perception. We filter all stimuli through our own screens, which inevitably distorts the reception of art. It’s why two people can watch the same movie — or hear the same song or look at the same painting — and come away with entirely opposite impressions.
My own prism clouds my judgment of Midnight Cowboy in a positive way. I had really cool parents, who exposed me to things when young that other kids simply didn’t see. They divorced when I was 2, but each took me to the movies, even R rated movies. Other kids were going to see 101 Dalmatians and Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Meanwhile, my mother — a single parent in her 20s — was taking me to see films like Midnight Cowboy, Serpico, Patton, The Godfather. Same with my father, on weekends.
I mean, I was like 8 or 9 or 10. Those things make an impression. A powerful impression.
For me, Midnight Cowboy was really frightening at the time. New York City looked so scary. These two losers were selling blood, one was a male prostitute living in an abandoned tenement in Harlem. But there was also something quite beautiful about it. The love. The compassion amidst the chaos. The humanity on streets paved with indifference.
Now, let’s fast forward 45 years later and please listen to this story:
I don’t think I saw Midnight Cowboy again at least all the way through until an entirely accidental encounter and I’d like to share this because it gives such a (I hope) poignant perspective of how movies impact us.
My last working WSOP was in the summer of 2016. We worked 54 straight days with no time off, 16 hour days. Brutal on the mind and body. You have to go through it to understand. Trust me, the body and mind are wrecked. I came back home on July 16, 2016 and arrived at 5 am at home. 5 am. The sun was just coming up. Marieta had the door open to the house. She had just made morning coffee.
My mind was so wound up I could not sleep, so Marieta turned on the TV (at 5 am) and it was TCM channel and Midnight Cowboy was just starting with Harry Nielson’s famous “Everybody’s Talkin'” theme song. We sat there and for the next two hours watched this movie from start to finish that I had not seen in 46 years. I can’t describe it, but my memories of that morning are tearful. She had never seen it before, so this was oddly a joyous experience, being able to reconnect with something from my own past as a child and then watch Marieta as she too became absorbed by the oddest couple, Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman.
That was my morning on July 16th, 2016, which also happened to be Marieta’s 55th birthday. And the day began at 5 am watching Midnight Cowboy.