I’m sure Dustin Hoffman will be making movies for many years, but I wonder if I’ll always hear Simon and Garfunkel playing in the background when I watch him. Between The Graduate and now Midnight Cowboy, that music and Hoffman work as a polite coda for the burn-baby-burn passions of the past decade. And while the world below The Graduate--and perhaps just a little to the side of Midnight Cowboy--cringe in rhythm-and-blues desperation, Hoffman’s poolside bust-out nebbish and crazed bootblack who’s WAWK-in’ heah! almost amble along, buoyed by S&G’s Greenwich Village bouncing ball--with some cool New Hollywood turns via Andy Warhol street-level happenings and jump-cut Godard-isms.
And so OK, I liked both movies, found them filled with their own energy and turned-on sensibilities; and Jon Voigt’s face as Buck, poleaxed by NYC, his hurt eyes trying to smile pretty, is haunting; and Hoffman’s Ratso, while a bit mannered, almost trying too hard, is impossible not to watch--and the brutality of Ben’s upwardly mobile family makes a nice counterpoint for the nasty turn the In Crowd takes in Midnight Cowboy.
If I had to choose, though, in the end--despite the chip on its shoulder--I’m “happier” with Midnight Cowboy, especially when Buck and Ratso are alone--or when Ratso breaks our hearts with his death-rattled dreams--or simply the faces of the minor players, many of them genuinely grimy--or at least as much as their no-budget cinematic counterparts flickering away on 42nd St., faking rage and lust, scratched and trapped behind hairs twitching in the frame--while the audience, miserable in the fog and filthy air, hunkers down for the long haul.