June 20, 1969 [Midnight Cowboy, The Graduate]

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.

Comments

  1. I think Midnight Cowboy is definitely building on the image of Hoffman from the Graduate. At the end of The Graduate one sees the couple surrounded by the old people and heading into their uncertain future while Midnight Cowboy ends in a similar setting where Hoffman is dead and Voight is desperately clutching on to him.

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  2. I think you're right: Both movies look back in desperate fear--and look forward in the same way. A fitting double beginning for the '70s, The Little Decade That Couldn't.

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