I love the song “Riptide” by Vance Joy, but, not having seen the movie, didn’t realize that the lyrics in the middle referred to Midnight Cowboy: “There’s this movie that I think you’ll like/This guy decides to quit his job and heads to New York City/This cowboy’s searching for himself.”
It works as an introduction to the film, or at least the first ten minutes or so. Once the cowboy makes it to New York, more things happen. He tries to make it as a gigolo; fails. He meets Ratso Rizzo; they don’t get off to a great start. Out of desperation, the cowboy eventually moves into Rizzo’s shitty apartment in an abandoned building, which would still probably be out of my price range. They enjoy some totally-not-gay times together, stealing coconuts and dancing in an unheated kitchen to keep warm. Then one of them dies.
This film holds the distinction of being the only Best Picture winner to have been rated X, though it was later downgraded to R. I sort of wonder what qualifies a movie for an X rating – I’ve certainly seen more scandalous stuff in your typical R-rated movie of the current era. Hell, I’ve seen worse on premium cable TV these days. I suppose it’s the hints of gay sex acts that were considered too hot for theaters. It’s certainly not because there are any actual penises shown in the making of this film.
So, my theme this week is Dustin Hoffman. I can honestly say that, despite his long and prestigious filmography, I don’t think I’ve seen a single movie of his. Maybe I’m wrong. In fact, in looking at his IMDB listing, I can confirm that I have seen a few films on which he holds a credit. Just not the big ones, the classic films that everybody’s seen (hence my little blog project).
I know about Dustin Hoffman, mostly through parodies of his famous roles. Forrest Gump features a throwback to the “I’m walkin’ here” scene. There’s the dog character who talks like his Rain Man character on Animaniacs (let’s not even go down the rabbit hole of references in children’s programs that kids couldn’t possibly get). In the course of watching all of these films, I’ve been noticing the source material for a lot of jokes that I didn’t always fully understand. There are probably far more that I don’t even remember (and honestly, it’s surprising enough that I have pretty solid recall of so many references that I didn’t get).
I’ve read that Dustin Hoffman took a big risk for this role as the scuzzy Ratso Rizzo, immediately following his clean-cut character in The Graduate (another classic film I’ve never seen – and still won’t for some time, since it didn’t win Best Picture that year). Rizzo is an interesting character. Initially, I was afraid that he was going to turn out to be the old standby character – the homophobe that is secretly gay himself – and he sort of is, though I think it’s handled more deftly than the typical I’ll-bet-you-never-saw-this-coming storyline.
Jon Voight’s character, the cowboy Joe Buck, is a bit harder to figure out. We keep getting these bizarre, and usually distorted, flashbacks to his youth, starting with his childhood with an odd grandma. Then there’s this scene that keeps popping up with a woman, and people chasing her down. I don’t know what to make of it, or even which parts are real and which are some paranoia-fueled dream. Nor can I figure out whether Cowboy Joe is meant to be gay himself – would a straight man prefer to sell sexual acts to other men rather than pick up a few dishwashing shifts?
I wish I could say the ending left me emotionally wrecked, but I would describe my reaction more appropriately as “confused.” I liked the film well enough, but I couldn’t get a handle on where it was all headed, so it just felt a bit abrupt. Like this blog –
Theme: Dustin Hoffman
First Time Watching? Yup
Final Verdict: Sunshine and coconut milk