REVIEWS

FILMS

What could have been a great movie gets lost in a voyeur party when Buck the Stud rides to town

LARRY ZOLF October 1 1969
REVIEWS

FILMS

What could have been a great movie gets lost in a voyeur party when Buck the Stud rides to town

LARRY ZOLF October 1 1969

FILMS

REVIEWS

What could have been a great movie gets lost in a voyeur party when Buck the Stud rides to town

LARRY ZOLF

MIDNIGHT COWBOY is a powerful and evocative film. It rides a wide range of human emotions and is just chock-full of cinematic values. The obligatory fast cuts, flashbacks and dream sequences are there; so, too, the cinéma vérité psychedelic parties and man-on-the-street interviews. The pace is frenetic, the action relentlessly poured on. “A reeking masterpiece,” summarizes the early critics’ comments.

Well, as the good book says: Sow the world a cinematic exercise in homosexual sado-masochism and ye shall reek the whirlwind of uncritical praise. For the sad fact is that John Schlesinger’s latest masterpiece of seeking is more creaking than reeking.

United Artists’ publicity releases boast of Schlesinger’s “penchant for total realism” and of “his unique ability to balance realism and impressionism.” They remind us of his previous experience as a BBC documentary producer and stress his reliance on cinéma vérité techniques to create the illusion of realism in what are in essence surrealistic allegories.

Schlesinger’s other films, Billy Liar and Darling, used these techniques and reflected this approach. At first Midnight Cowboy seems a continuum: Joe Buck, a good-looking, virile, dumb Texan declares himself a stud and sets out for New York in pursuit of love-starved, affluent ladies. Simple enough and yet much more. Joe Buck is a stallion; the unconquered, untamed west, wild, woolly and virile, America’s frontier in its soil-rooted Dream of Innocence. This noble, sexual savage, this balled-up barbarian is on his way to Rome — to the Babylonian Captivity of degenerate and decadent New York.

Leaning on the Nabokov precedent, Schlesinger tries to make of Joe Buck’s odyssey a philosophical and spiritual commentary on the mores and customs of America. In Lolita, the motels, turnpikes and drive-ins provided the topography and logistics for commentary. In Midnight Cowboy, the sleazy world of bus - driven loser America provides the setting for statement and insight.

Midnight Cowboy shares another

similarity with Lolita in that both delve into the world of sexual aberration, for both a lever and a focus for intensifying the lessons implicit in the allegory. Humbert Humbert, the apotheosis of cultured, sophisticated and intellectual Europe, is seduced and destroyed by the grasping, vulgar and ignorant nymphet Lolita, herself the apotheosis of America. In Midnight Cowboy, Buck, the heterosexual symbol of frontier virility, wholesomeness and naïveté, has his sexual and personal identity twisted and destroyed in the homosexual alleys and sidestreets of Times Square.

But for Nabokov, the sexual aberrations of nymphet-craving were merely a formalistic device that was never allowed to subvert the essence of the allegory. Nabokov’s own screenplay and Stanley Kubrick’s skillful direction enabled the essential qualities of the novel to be transferred to the film version exquisitely intact. In Midnight Cowboy, Schlesinger’s personal inclinations and morbidities ride roughshod over the basic ingredients of the James Leo Herlihy novel and Waldo Salt’s screenplay.

It’s not that Schlesinger’s proven qualities as a film director are entirely absent. Jon Voight as Joe Buck and Dustin Hoffman as Ratso, the crippled, consumptive Bronx drifter, are guided through their assignments with skill and dexterity. What is disturbing is Schlesinger’s uncontrolled and reckless “penchant for total realism.” His preoccupation with the realistic portrayal of the more gross minutae of homosexual activities borders on the perverse. Buck’s homosexual experience with the frightened Jewish mama’s boy in a Times Square theatre is nauseatingly graphic. The result is a forced foray into voyeurism both unnecessary and unasked for. The psychedelic party, showcasing the dubious talents of Viva, Ultra Violet and International Velvet, the Holy Trinity of the Andy Warhol set, is as inside mincey as the drug-fag orgy of Darling. These indulgences soon become more than just sidebars. The pursuit of the main allegory and story is rapidly abandoned. What could have been a great movie simply winds up as a dazzling, fast-moving action fag film. □

Brief, bore and bare

At Home: This 13-minute film won a $1,000 award for the best Canadian entry at the Vancouver Film Festival. Conceived and executed by writer-director Martin Lavut, commissioned and paid for by the CBC, At Home is a surrealistic look at the cluttered lifestyle of auteur Lavut and his buxom, bouncy girl friend Adrienne. Lavut’s wacky imagination soon converts the film into a hilarious takeoff on all those cluttered boy - girl, voice - over, young - lover statements the National Film Board puts out under gormless titles like “Notes on Immortality and Love,” or, “Fragments on a Cold, Sunny Afternoon.” At Home is also a typical Canadian success story. Lavut has been evicted from the apartment he lived and filmed in and has lost his girl friend to the film editor. The film has never been shown on the CBC and to this date Lavut has not received his $1,000 from the Vancouver Festival officials.

Chastity: This is another of those American International “cool” films that is sure to be a teeny-bopper mind-grabber. Cher leaves Sonny for this one and heads for the open road. In the process she spurns the advances of a tattooed truck driver and succumbs to the lesbian wiles of a Mexican madam. She also gets to deliver these immortal lines: “If more people acted the way God says you should, I guess church wouldn’t be such a drag.” If Cher would only learn how to act, maybe Chastity wouldn’t be such a drag.

Southern Star: This African epic, remotely connected to the Jules Verne novel of the same name, is a mildly amusing spoof of the African action genre. Ursula Undress wanders naked through miles of picturesque animal footage, and an animal stampede resembles eviction day at the Bronx Zoo. The veldtaunschaung of this ecological epic is pithily summed up by George Segal, Ursula’s companion in adventure: “A girl’s place is not in the jungle bush.”