Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic

Farrar. Mar. 2021. 432p. ISBN 9780374209018. $30. FILM
One of cinema’s most daring and widely acclaimed films, Midnight Cowboy has long deserved this kind of focused consideration. Frankel (High Noon), a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter, paints the story of the film with a wide and holistic brush, encompassing the unsettled and divided nature of America in the late 1960s, the shift in cinema toward more realistic depictions of adult themes, and the lives of director John Schlesinger, a gay man who always struggled to fit in, and novelist James Herlihy, a gay man with similar feelings toward finding his place in his life and career. The film is a document of life in a dark and unforgiving New York City for two apparent castaways, and the living conditions endured by Joe Buck and “Ratso” Rizzo, as well as the constant sexual undertones, are drawn directly from Herlihy’s novel, whose story is as essential to Frankel’s book as Schlesinger’s. Tackling questions of censorship and the MPAA ratings, bravura performances by Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, the costumes, the soundtrack, and the film’s coronation at the 1970 Academy Awards, Frankel expertly brings it all together.
VERDICT An in-depth, exquisite biography of a legendary film, and a must-read for cinephiles.
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