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

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times-bestselling author of the behind-the-scenes explorations of the classic American Westerns High Noon and The Searchers now reveals the history of the controversial 1969 Oscar-winning film that signaled a dramatic shift in American popular culture. Director John Schlesinger's Darling was nominated for five Academy Award The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times-bestselling author of the behind-the-scenes explorations of the classic American Westerns High Noon and The Searchers now reveals the history of the controversial 1969 Oscar-winning film that signaled a dramatic shift in American popular culture. Director John Schlesinger's Darling was nominated for five Academy Awards, and introduced the world to the transcendently talented Julie Christie. Suddenly the toast of Hollywood, Schlesinger used his newfound clout to film an expensive, Panavision adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd. Expectations were huge, making the movie's complete critical and commercial failure even more devastating, and Schlesinger suddenly found himself persona non grata in the Hollywood circles he had hoped to conquer. Given his recent travails, Schlesinger's next project seemed doubly daring, bordering on foolish. James Leo Herlihy's novel Midnight Cowboy, about a Texas hustler trying to survive on the mean streets of 1960's New York, was dark and transgressive. Perhaps something about the book's unsparing portrait of cultural alienation resonated with him. His decision to film it began one of the unlikelier convergences in cinematic history, centered around a city that seemed, at first glance, as unwelcoming as Herlihy's novel itself. Glenn Frankel's Shooting Midnight Cowboy tells the story of a modern classic that, by all accounts, should never have become one in the first place. The film's boundary-pushing subject matter--homosexuality, prostitution, sexual assault--earned it an X rating when it first appeared in cinemas in 1969. For Midnight Cowboy, Schlesinger—who had never made a film in the United States—enlisted Jerome Hellman, a producer coming off his own recent flop and smarting from a failed marriage, and Waldo Salt, a formerly blacklisted screenwriter with a tortured past. The decision to shoot on location in New York, at a time when the city was approaching its gritty nadir, backfired when a sanitation strike filled Manhattan with garbage fires and fears of dysentery. Much more than a history of Schlesinger's film, Shooting Midnight Cowboy is an arresting glimpse into the world from which it emerged: a troubled city that nurtured the talents and ambitions of the pioneering Polish cinematographer Adam Holender and legendary casting director Marion Dougherty, who discovered both Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight and supported them for the roles of "Ratso" Rizzo and Joe Buck--leading to one of the most intensely moving joint performances ever to appear on screen. We follow Herlihy himself as he moves from the experimental confines of Black Mountain College to the theatres of Broadway, influenced by close relationships with Tennessee Williams and Anaïs Nin, and yet unable to find lasting literary success. By turns madcap and serious, and enriched by interviews with Hoffman, Voight, and others, Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic is not only the definitive account of the film that unleashed a new wave of innovation in American cinema, but also the story of a country—and an industry—beginning to break free from decades of cultural and sexual repression.


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The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times-bestselling author of the behind-the-scenes explorations of the classic American Westerns High Noon and The Searchers now reveals the history of the controversial 1969 Oscar-winning film that signaled a dramatic shift in American popular culture. Director John Schlesinger's Darling was nominated for five Academy Award The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times-bestselling author of the behind-the-scenes explorations of the classic American Westerns High Noon and The Searchers now reveals the history of the controversial 1969 Oscar-winning film that signaled a dramatic shift in American popular culture. Director John Schlesinger's Darling was nominated for five Academy Awards, and introduced the world to the transcendently talented Julie Christie. Suddenly the toast of Hollywood, Schlesinger used his newfound clout to film an expensive, Panavision adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd. Expectations were huge, making the movie's complete critical and commercial failure even more devastating, and Schlesinger suddenly found himself persona non grata in the Hollywood circles he had hoped to conquer. Given his recent travails, Schlesinger's next project seemed doubly daring, bordering on foolish. James Leo Herlihy's novel Midnight Cowboy, about a Texas hustler trying to survive on the mean streets of 1960's New York, was dark and transgressive. Perhaps something about the book's unsparing portrait of cultural alienation resonated with him. His decision to film it began one of the unlikelier convergences in cinematic history, centered around a city that seemed, at first glance, as unwelcoming as Herlihy's novel itself. Glenn Frankel's Shooting Midnight Cowboy tells the story of a modern classic that, by all accounts, should never have become one in the first place. The film's boundary-pushing subject matter--homosexuality, prostitution, sexual assault--earned it an X rating when it first appeared in cinemas in 1969. For Midnight Cowboy, Schlesinger—who had never made a film in the United States—enlisted Jerome Hellman, a producer coming off his own recent flop and smarting from a failed marriage, and Waldo Salt, a formerly blacklisted screenwriter with a tortured past. The decision to shoot on location in New York, at a time when the city was approaching its gritty nadir, backfired when a sanitation strike filled Manhattan with garbage fires and fears of dysentery. Much more than a history of Schlesinger's film, Shooting Midnight Cowboy is an arresting glimpse into the world from which it emerged: a troubled city that nurtured the talents and ambitions of the pioneering Polish cinematographer Adam Holender and legendary casting director Marion Dougherty, who discovered both Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight and supported them for the roles of "Ratso" Rizzo and Joe Buck--leading to one of the most intensely moving joint performances ever to appear on screen. We follow Herlihy himself as he moves from the experimental confines of Black Mountain College to the theatres of Broadway, influenced by close relationships with Tennessee Williams and Anaïs Nin, and yet unable to find lasting literary success. By turns madcap and serious, and enriched by interviews with Hoffman, Voight, and others, Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic is not only the definitive account of the film that unleashed a new wave of innovation in American cinema, but also the story of a country—and an industry—beginning to break free from decades of cultural and sexual repression.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    There's a lot to unpack here. As I write this, I hear John Barry's haunting theme, and realize it is one of those pieces of music that has never worn out its welcome for over 50 years. That and Harry Nilsson's cover of Everybody's Talkin' which I had always attributed to him, but was actually composed by Fred Neil, a lesser known musician of the time who wrote while wishing to return to the solitude of his sailboat in Florida. How these two pieces became so closely identified with a gritty depic There's a lot to unpack here. As I write this, I hear John Barry's haunting theme, and realize it is one of those pieces of music that has never worn out its welcome for over 50 years. That and Harry Nilsson's cover of Everybody's Talkin' which I had always attributed to him, but was actually composed by Fred Neil, a lesser known musician of the time who wrote while wishing to return to the solitude of his sailboat in Florida. How these two pieces became so closely identified with a gritty depiction of life on the streets of a downward sliding New York City in the 1960's is only one of the elements of this remarkable study. For those of us who remember that time and the impact this mature film made on the movie industry, this book is a trip to our past. For those too young or who weren't paying attention, it is a virtual window on an era long gone. I would imagine only real cinema nerds will make it all the way through, but this densely packed, extraordinarily researched examination reaches beyond the confines of film production and instead presents historical forces that had to be in place for this movie to be made but even more so, for its impact on the pop and cultural landscapes of its time. Integral to this history are the historical events regarding student upheavals, terrorist groups, protests against the Vietnam War, and most importantly, the history of gay culture featuring the Stonewall riots and the emergence of HIV. There are in depth bios of the primary creators which reveal personal detail - Author John Leo Herlihy (including his intense friendship with Anais Nin), Director John Schlesinger (looking for a quality project after scoring with Darling and flopping with Far From the Madding Crowd). The section on Waldo Salt brought in the shameful era of McCarthyism and the Black List. The fortunate timing of the schedule that evolved under John Lindsay's term as mayor during which only one permit was required for shooting a film as opposed to an earlier, more difficult and expensive system. Then of course there was the casting. It is impossible to envision this film with anyone else, but the contribution particularly of Dustin Hoffman and his willingness to work with aspirants to the Joe Buck role were invaluable. It's a lengthy, detailed portrait of an indelible contributor to the zeitgeist.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stacy Helton

    The genre of books known as the film biography is one of the more enjoyable pleasures. In the past year, books have been published giving a complete picture of the films Chinatown, Mad Men, Dazed & Confused, and the subject of this review, Shooting Midnight Cowboy. Pulitzer Prize winner Glenn Frankel has given the John Schlesinger 1969 film an in-depth, comprehensive study. More academic and less gossipy than the Sam Staggs books (but just as entertaining), Frankel was able to snag interviews wi The genre of books known as the film biography is one of the more enjoyable pleasures. In the past year, books have been published giving a complete picture of the films Chinatown, Mad Men, Dazed & Confused, and the subject of this review, Shooting Midnight Cowboy. Pulitzer Prize winner Glenn Frankel has given the John Schlesinger 1969 film an in-depth, comprehensive study. More academic and less gossipy than the Sam Staggs books (but just as entertaining), Frankel was able to snag interviews with the cast and crew (those still alive), most importantly Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman. Frankel takes the time to explore the complicated life of Jim Herlihy, the gay who penned the 1965 novel, Midnight Cowboy. Frankel often turns a sociological lens on gay America in the 1950s and 1960s, the decline of New York City after the postwar boom, and the fluctuation of the rating system post-Hayes code. Also discussed is the canon of director Schlesinger, including Darling and Sunday Bloody Sunday, which deserves its own inclusive study, alongside the career of screenwriter Waldo Salt, who was one of the original blacklisted Hollywood writers. The book is chock-full of amazing anecdotes, my favorite being the rattlesnake removal in the crumbling Texas house where Voight and Jennifer Salt have their illicit rendezvous. The editing of the film, with its sometimes-incomprehensible flashbacks, is discussed in detail. And of course, the “I’m walkin’ here!” adlib and the film’s X-rating also receive plenty of ink. A fantastic book chronicling one of the greatest films of all time.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michael Ritchie

    I'm not a fan of Midnight Cowboy (I was 13 when it came out with an X rating and didn't see it until I was in college, by which time it didn't seem shocking or revelatory or even particularly interesting) but I do like books which both trace the history of a film and discuss its cultural context, and this does both well. Frankel wanders rather far afield at times in what feels like occasional padding, especially in delving into the background of the author of the original novel James Leo Herlihy I'm not a fan of Midnight Cowboy (I was 13 when it came out with an X rating and didn't see it until I was in college, by which time it didn't seem shocking or revelatory or even particularly interesting) but I do like books which both trace the history of a film and discuss its cultural context, and this does both well. Frankel wanders rather far afield at times in what feels like occasional padding, especially in delving into the background of the author of the original novel James Leo Herlihy. But it is interesting that both Herlihy and the film's director John Schlesinger were more-or-less closeted gay men, and that the movie feels gay even though there is very little direct reference to homosexuality (I guess the men's room sex scene counts). Frankel has done his research well and the book is always quite readable, even when it does dally--the title is a bit of a misnomer, as the actual shooting of the movie takes up maybe only a third of the book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Pola Changnon

    Totally enjoyed the detailed reportage of the creative personalities and the culturally era behind this movie. Details that were at times as “seedy” as the plot of the movie. Also, really new to me was the homophobic attitude that prevailed at this time. Even amongst psychiatrists who felt that being gay was a sign of ultimate ego and refusal to mature into more appropriate heterosexual love. Book also underlined the unlikely nature of filmmaking (or any collaborative process)...ie, how hard it Totally enjoyed the detailed reportage of the creative personalities and the culturally era behind this movie. Details that were at times as “seedy” as the plot of the movie. Also, really new to me was the homophobic attitude that prevailed at this time. Even amongst psychiatrists who felt that being gay was a sign of ultimate ego and refusal to mature into more appropriate heterosexual love. Book also underlined the unlikely nature of filmmaking (or any collaborative process)...ie, how hard it is and how impossible for those involved. Nobody knows nothing!

  5. 4 out of 5

    J Earl

    Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic by Glenn Frankel is about so much more than simply shooting the film. It is a history of the book and film, as well as those people involved and the times in which it was made. These are all tied together into a compelling narrative that keeps the reader engrossed from start to finish. In some ways this is more a history book than a snapshot of the time during which the film was physically made. By tellin Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic by Glenn Frankel is about so much more than simply shooting the film. It is a history of the book and film, as well as those people involved and the times in which it was made. These are all tied together into a compelling narrative that keeps the reader engrossed from start to finish. In some ways this is more a history book than a snapshot of the time during which the film was physically made. By telling the personal stories of the book's author (Herlihy) and director (Schlesinger) we are given background into the themes of the film and the cultural environment into which it was released. In this respect it is as much social and cultural history as it is a study of the making of a film. If you're mostly interested in the making of the film in the more narrow sense, you won't be disappointed. We get the details of what is done, what is considered, and what each person in the production brought to the final cut. I do think, even if you aren't coming to the book with a strong desire to learn as much of the history of the principals and the culture of the period, you will be glad you read it. That information sheds so much light on what will later be decided in the making of the film. In spite of the big ideas, as highlighted in the book's after colon section, the film and this book both never lose track of the human elements. These are people. Whether we're talking about the characters in the story or the one's responsible for writing the book and making the movie, this is still a story (film and this book) about people. I recommend this not just to film lovers and those who like this film in particular, but to those interested in social history of mid-20th century, especially New York City, Stonewall, and many of the other movements of the time. Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    This is a great account of an iconic movie that broke a lot of barriers. Frankel's story is one of those that make it almost impossible for a reader to put down. He captures the lives of the key people behind the film: author of the source book, James Leo Herlihy, the director, John Schlesinger, stars Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, plus a cast of amazing characters both on and offscreen, including screenwriter Waldo Salt (and his daughter Jennifer, who had a pivotal, and traumatizing, role in th This is a great account of an iconic movie that broke a lot of barriers. Frankel's story is one of those that make it almost impossible for a reader to put down. He captures the lives of the key people behind the film: author of the source book, James Leo Herlihy, the director, John Schlesinger, stars Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, plus a cast of amazing characters both on and offscreen, including screenwriter Waldo Salt (and his daughter Jennifer, who had a pivotal, and traumatizing, role in the film), casting director, cinematographer, and many others. Exhaustively researched, this gem virtually leaps off the page. It was so good I immediately watched the movie again and am not reading Herlihy's book. Highly recommended!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Peacejanz

    This is a book for people who loved the movie or the book. Otherwise, I think it could be quite boring. There is a great deal of detail, about the director, especially his first US film and his anxiety or nervousness. There are bits and pieces about the various characters, such as the clause in Brenda Vaccaro's contract that her breasts or nipples could not be seen (I can't remember which it was) and they used pasties, which were sticky. [What a love scene - sticky pasties on you]. Neither Hoffm This is a book for people who loved the movie or the book. Otherwise, I think it could be quite boring. There is a great deal of detail, about the director, especially his first US film and his anxiety or nervousness. There are bits and pieces about the various characters, such as the clause in Brenda Vaccaro's contract that her breasts or nipples could not be seen (I can't remember which it was) and they used pasties, which were sticky. [What a love scene - sticky pasties on you]. Neither Hoffman or Voight were the intended stars but got the roles as second-best; there was a special relationship between them when they were acting. Some of the scenes are sudden, improvised, not planned - just as when Hoffman beats on the cab and is yelling and kicking the cab. Many of the crowd scenes are actual scenes in New York - the budget was so low that they could not hire enough people to walk the streets of supply the crowd scenes. They just took photos of actual people, without permission and used them in the movie. The book is well referenced, providing notes and suggested readings. Perhaps best of all, the final pages detail the aftermath of the movie, those who won awards, those who disappeared, those we know by the movies and plays they wrote. This book fills my heart, just as the movie did 50 years ago.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tim Oldakowski

    I know I say this every time I read a book about a film’s production (see Seduced by Mrs. Robinson) but this is hands down one of the best books about film production I have ever read. Not only do you learn about the novelist, director, actors, and crew, but you get a vivid description of NYC in the 1960’s and 1970’s. A must read if you are interested in this film, the breakup of the Hollywood Studio System, or the legendary film Midnight Cowboy.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Philip Fagan

    Between last year's The Big Goodbye by Sam Wasson and Glenn Frankel's new tome on Midnight Cowboy, it's safe to say that we are entering a remarkable new era in well-researched and highly entertaining historical works on the New Hollywood of the 60s and 70s. Like Wasson's study of Polanski's Chinatown, Frankel's Shooting Midnight Cowboy furthers the timeworn argument of cinema as a personal art form of auteurship while extending the idea beyond the director to include writers, producers, actors, Between last year's The Big Goodbye by Sam Wasson and Glenn Frankel's new tome on Midnight Cowboy, it's safe to say that we are entering a remarkable new era in well-researched and highly entertaining historical works on the New Hollywood of the 60s and 70s. Like Wasson's study of Polanski's Chinatown, Frankel's Shooting Midnight Cowboy furthers the timeworn argument of cinema as a personal art form of auteurship while extending the idea beyond the director to include writers, producers, actors, principle crew members and accomplices, all who bring their own life experiences and personal visions to the final cut. Along the way, myths surrounding Midnight Cowboy are clarified and sometimes debunked (the stories behind the notorious X-rating and Hoffman's famous "I'm walkin' here" line are fascinating revisions to the usual assumptions). Frankel also digs deep into the diverse countercultures that ultimately informed the film and its creators, with appearances by Gore Vidal, Anais Nin, Andy Warhol and others situating the film within a broader context. Whether you love the film itself as much as I do or have a more general interest in the film-making business and underground culture of the 1960s, this is your book. Shooting Midnight Cowboy isn't film history. It's American history woven together by a highly skilled researcher and engaging writer.

  10. 4 out of 5

    James Beggarly

    Thanks to Netgalley and FSG for the ebook. I love the film Midnight Cowboy, the American films of the late sixties and seventies are among my all time favorites, and this book is an exhaustive look into every aspect of the making of the film, starting with the novel and the author who wrote it, the British director and his America producer who saw something in the story that almost no one else did, the former blacklisted screenwriter who also understood the book and saw this project as a chance Thanks to Netgalley and FSG for the ebook. I love the film Midnight Cowboy, the American films of the late sixties and seventies are among my all time favorites, and this book is an exhaustive look into every aspect of the making of the film, starting with the novel and the author who wrote it, the British director and his America producer who saw something in the story that almost no one else did, the former blacklisted screenwriter who also understood the book and saw this project as a chance to once again write something he loved and believed in, the Polish emigre cinematographer in his first American feature and two actors, Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, who the director didn’t want to hire, but ended up admiring their hard work and inventiveness more than any actors he would ever work with in his career. Like most movies, there are a hundred times where the film seems like it’s going to derail and either not get made or become a mess, but somehow finds that magic that averts disaster and becomes a wildly successful film and later a classic.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I have read all of Frankel’s books on film and have enjoyed each of them-including Shooting Midnight Cowboy. This is a very behind the scenes look at the making of Midnight Cowboy and the book on which it is based. The book gives us a look at the author,James Herlihy, the director of the movie, James Schlesinger and of course, the stars-Hoffman and Voight. Not just a book about a movie but the book also examines New York in the seventies with an emphasis on gay culture and the arts. A very inter I have read all of Frankel’s books on film and have enjoyed each of them-including Shooting Midnight Cowboy. This is a very behind the scenes look at the making of Midnight Cowboy and the book on which it is based. The book gives us a look at the author,James Herlihy, the director of the movie, James Schlesinger and of course, the stars-Hoffman and Voight. Not just a book about a movie but the book also examines New York in the seventies with an emphasis on gay culture and the arts. A very interesting melange. My only complaint is that I think the book is too detailed and could have been shorter. The details sometimes bog down the interesting story of the key players and the movie making story. But I still enjoyed it and if you have any interest in film making and/or this classic movie—this book is for you.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Paul Callahan

    I remember 1969 as the year man walked on the moon and Life ended on the earth. Life Magazine ended as a weekly publication that year. I thought it’s demise ironic juxtaposed next to the moon landing. It was also the year of Woodstock and it was also the year of Midnight Cowboy; the first and only X rated movie to ever win the Academy Award for best picture of the year. I was 20 years old. I thought Midnight Cowboy was a wonderful movie reimagining Of Mice and Men with Joe and Ratso replacing Ge I remember 1969 as the year man walked on the moon and Life ended on the earth. Life Magazine ended as a weekly publication that year. I thought it’s demise ironic juxtaposed next to the moon landing. It was also the year of Woodstock and it was also the year of Midnight Cowboy; the first and only X rated movie to ever win the Academy Award for best picture of the year. I was 20 years old. I thought Midnight Cowboy was a wonderful movie reimagining Of Mice and Men with Joe and Ratso replacing George and Lenny. Glenn Frankel’s book brings the time MIdnight Cowboy was made back into focus. The movie was made in 1968. That year began with the Tet Offensive and the abdication of Lyndon Johnson and ended with Richard Nixon in the White House and the Christmas Eve broadcast from Apollo 8 as it orbited the Moon. In between there both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, cities burned and the police rioted at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. On the streets of NYC, John Schlesinger made a love story about Joe Buck, a dishwasher from Texas who goes to New York City to sell sex to rich women, fails but meets a tubercular street hustler named Ratso Rizzo and forges a family with him amid the ruins. Frankel gives us in-depth portraits of James Leo Herlihy, John Schlesinger, Waldo Salt and the two principle actors; John Voight and Dustin Hoffman. And he gives us New York City as it is beginning its slide from Fun City to Fear City. As we get old we forget what the world was like when we were young. Given the social and cultural atmosphere in America in 1968 it is amazing that this film was allowed to be made. It shattered walls and ceilings and after Midnight Cowboy came out the holes in the moral structure of America began to show. That was a good thing. As Leonard Cohen said about cracks, “that’s how the light gets in”.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Glenn Frankel has written an exhaustive, and somewhat exhausting, account of the making of the 1969 classic film Midnight Cowboy. The beginning of the actual filming isn't covered until the fifteenth chapter, at the middle of the book. Before we get there, Frankel takes us on a long path of preparation by detailing the lives of all the key players in the film's history. He begins with James Leo Herlihy, the author of the novel that was published in 1965. He continues with similar background stor Glenn Frankel has written an exhaustive, and somewhat exhausting, account of the making of the 1969 classic film Midnight Cowboy. The beginning of the actual filming isn't covered until the fifteenth chapter, at the middle of the book. Before we get there, Frankel takes us on a long path of preparation by detailing the lives of all the key players in the film's history. He begins with James Leo Herlihy, the author of the novel that was published in 1965. He continues with similar background stories of director James Schlesinger, screen writer Waldo Salt, the producers, casting directors, and many other members of the film crew. Eventually we learn about how stars Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight got involved, as well as other members of the cast. Frankel also tells us a lot about New York City and its importance to the story. I read the novel back in 1967 or 1968 when I was a teenager, and it was very impressive and moving. When I saw the film during its initial release, I remember feeling a bit of a letdown with the way the story was brought to the screen. Still, the film is well made and is filled with brilliant performances. While I was reading Frankel's book I found myself wanting to reread the novel, if I could manage to find a copy. But by the end, I was a little bit overwhelmed by the sadness of the lives of Joe Buck, Rico Rizzo and their creator, James Leo Herlihy, and I think I've finally had more than enough of Midnight Cowboy and the mean streets of New York.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jay Hinman

    An exhaustive accounting of the classic 1969 film and cultural hoopla that surrounded Midnight Cowboy, the X-rated film about a would-be New York City male hustler from cornpone Texas and his streetwise, ne’er do well grifter friend - a classic that nearly didn’t get made, and then ended up winning a Best Picture Oscar a year after its release. Midnight Cowboy, the film, came to fruition at the nexus of a a Venn diagram comprised of James Leo Herlihy’s 1965 book of the same name; the physical de An exhaustive accounting of the classic 1969 film and cultural hoopla that surrounded Midnight Cowboy, the X-rated film about a would-be New York City male hustler from cornpone Texas and his streetwise, ne’er do well grifter friend - a classic that nearly didn’t get made, and then ended up winning a Best Picture Oscar a year after its release. Midnight Cowboy, the film, came to fruition at the nexus of a a Venn diagram comprised of James Leo Herlihy’s 1965 book of the same name; the physical decline of New York City; the retrospectively preordained but by no means assured ascent of Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman’s careers; the first stirrings of American gay liberation; the desire of director John Schlesinger to escape his native London and the failures surrounding his film Far From The Madding Crowd; and a serendipitous cohesion of cast, crew, location and public readiness for the film’s bracingly honest storytelling. The book casts a net even wider than this diagram, taking in not just the making of the film from these elements, but also the lives of the people involved, both before and after the late 60s/early 70s sensation surrounding the film’s release and ultimate critical and box-office triumph. If you haven’t seen it, I certainly recommend you do before reading the book, which is pretty much true of any tome that dissects a single work of cinema. Yet because Frankel takes in so much more than a making-of, he also provides a truly valuable overview of American mores and attitudes starting in the 50s and how they served to both impede and later accelerate the careers of iconoclastic free-thinkers (and homosexuals) like Herlihy and Schlesinger. We also learn a great deal about the film industry of the 60s; the role of women within it (the tale of casting director Marion Dougherty is especially rich and frustrating) and about New York City itself, a city starting its slow crumble in the 1960s while simultaneously being invigorated by hippies, freaks and outsiders of all manner. Aside from the greatness of Midnight Cowboy and the performances by Voight and Hoffman themselves, I’d always been most interested in it being Rated X, typically given to pornographic films. We learn about the psychiatrist who essentially nudged it into an X rating - over the objections of the ratings board, who actually gave it an “R” - because of his fears that viewing the film might turn maladjusted heterosexuals into gay men. This for a bleak film about a desperate, non-homosexual friendship that is far from a recruitment poster for the lavender lifestyle. A bit of unnecessary repetition sets in during a late chapter that recaps the film’s plot, the details of which we’ve by now already contemplated from multiple angles during the recapping of the filming itself. I could have done without it, along with the umpteenth hosannas for Voight and Hoffman’s exceptional performances, but it’s redeemed with a terrific epilogue that truly cements the film in context by giving us the then-what-happened for every major character up until their deaths or declines. (Jon Voight became a Trump-lover. I did not know that.). With an exception or two, Midnight Cowboy was the creative pinnacle for just about everyone involved in its creation, as it was for the major-studio film industry in 1969. Frankel has done it true justice with a comprehensive history of the film and its times.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Allen

    I just rewatched the movie Midnight Cowboy (1968) which is a masterpiece. Then I read this new book about it: It’s hard to give this well-written book 3 out of 5 stars. The writer was a journalist for many years and it really shows here. I bought the book having loved the movie Midnight Cowboy over the years. This book about it was very detailed, and covered all aspects of the making of the movie. Why 3 stars? The title of the book should have been: The History of Homosexual Creators in the 60s/ I just rewatched the movie Midnight Cowboy (1968) which is a masterpiece. Then I read this new book about it: It’s hard to give this well-written book 3 out of 5 stars. The writer was a journalist for many years and it really shows here. I bought the book having loved the movie Midnight Cowboy over the years. This book about it was very detailed, and covered all aspects of the making of the movie. Why 3 stars? The title of the book should have been: The History of Homosexual Creators in the 60s/70s, and The History of New York during the 60s/70s. (and the making of Midnight Cowboy) After many pages about the gay writer of Midnight Cowboy in extreme detail the book went another 100+ pages about NY and it's gay population. Then the turmoil and decay of NY, etc. I finally skimmed over pages and paragraphs to finally, around the middle of the book, get to read about the making of the movie. Even then the history of the movie kept forking back to homosexuality and NY. It became painful to read. I was mostly interested in the movie so I plowed ahead. In the end I’m glad I read it. I learned a lot. I just wished the book had had an editor to keep the book on track, cut back excessive details unrelated to the movie, etc. There should have been two separate books instead of the history textbook merged with the movie history. Sure, the movie does treat NY in 1968 as a character. It is important but most of the book is too much to sift through for movie buffs. I have nothing against gay people and consider everyone having the freedom to their hopes and desires, etc. But this was so continuously brought up in the book it was as if I’m reading The National Enquirer. Is it important for us to know the private sexual behavior of every person in connection with the movie? Too much information that the writer Glenn found fascinating and loved writing about, but was too far afield many times, not sticking to the making of the movie.🍕🍕🍕3 out of 5.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bradley Morgan

    Frankel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, dives deep into the political, cultural, and social zeitgeist of the 1950s and 60s that led to the production and release of the X-rated classic from 1969 that signaled a dramatic shift in American popular culture. Not just an in-depth look into the making of the film, chronicling the New York misadventures of Joe Buck as the product of a generation raised by images of an illusory America and his begrudging friendship with the seedy Ratso Rizzo borne Frankel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, dives deep into the political, cultural, and social zeitgeist of the 1950s and 60s that led to the production and release of the X-rated classic from 1969 that signaled a dramatic shift in American popular culture. Not just an in-depth look into the making of the film, chronicling the New York misadventures of Joe Buck as the product of a generation raised by images of an illusory America and his begrudging friendship with the seedy Ratso Rizzo borne out of a survivalist necessity, Frankel also applies a journalistic scrutiny in his analysis of shifts within the classic Hollywood studio system, public perception and acceptance of homosexuals in the performing arts, the economic decline of New York, and the film’s lurid literary source material; the film being dangerous and pioneering at a tumultuous time when the old ways were dying as a new cultural dawn was on the horizon. Frankel’s research and contextualization of the attitudes and mores preceding the release of “Midnight Cowboy” is a methodical study on the effects and impact of sexual liberation with “Midnight Cowboy” breaking through barriers once thought impossible to overcome. More than just a behind-the-scenes look at the making of an important film, Frankel’s book is an essential cultural study of a time when even the most liberal of institutions, the arts, were still antagonistic against free sexual expression.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Meticulously researched and endlessly fascinating. This is a terrific film history book about the making of the only X-rated movie to ever win Best Picture at the Oscars. The super helpful thing Frankel does is to give you context about each person and the social movements of the time. You also get a breakdown of the differences between the book and the movie, the differences between what ended up on screen and the screenplay, etc. It's a solid read. It's not quite a 5-star book as it can be a b Meticulously researched and endlessly fascinating. This is a terrific film history book about the making of the only X-rated movie to ever win Best Picture at the Oscars. The super helpful thing Frankel does is to give you context about each person and the social movements of the time. You also get a breakdown of the differences between the book and the movie, the differences between what ended up on screen and the screenplay, etc. It's a solid read. It's not quite a 5-star book as it can be a bit dry at times. But still. Highly recommended.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Based on the movie ‘Midnight Cowboy’. Interesting Hollywood type movie, takes mostly in New York City. 1969 movie with many subplots I.e gay community, finding/ developing movie careers. The subplots keeps you riveting……

  19. 5 out of 5

    Neale

    They say that it takes a village to raise a child, and this book proves that it takes a village to make a film. In this case not just a village, but New York City. The book starts with detailed, intertwined biographies of James Leo Herlihy, who wrote the book, and John Schlesinger, who directed the film. Both were gay men growing up in the 1940s and early 1950s, coming to terms with art and sex, converging on New York City in the 1960s, with its extraordinary combination of exuberance and bleak d They say that it takes a village to raise a child, and this book proves that it takes a village to make a film. In this case not just a village, but New York City. The book starts with detailed, intertwined biographies of James Leo Herlihy, who wrote the book, and John Schlesinger, who directed the film. Both were gay men growing up in the 1940s and early 1950s, coming to terms with art and sex, converging on New York City in the 1960s, with its extraordinary combination of exuberance and bleak despair, and its extraordinary gay culture. New York is the third main character in this love triangle. All biographies should be group biographies. No life is lived alone. I have just been involved with a production of Mart Crowley's classic play The Boys in the Band, which grew out of exactly the same world that this book describes, and I found the evocation absolutely fascinating. In a way, this might have been a more interesting (if commercially disastrous) book if it had stopped at the point where the film was green-lit. The section about the actual making of the film is beyond fascinating - particularly about Waldo Salt, the screenwriter and Marion Dougherty, the casting director - but it is relatively conventional 'making of' stuff, and gets rather mired in the detail, ticking off all the major collaborators one by one, but a little perfunctorily, without the loving care lavished on the two main characters and the city. If all this detail had come at the beginning of the book it might have worked better - in my case, having become so invested in Herlihy and Schlesinger, in so much detail, the making of the film itself became almost a distraction. This wonderful book makes the point that any work of art is not just a thing in itself but the culmination of many lives, from childhood, converging...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Angela Randall

    This book was not for me.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Hal Johnson

    100 pages into this book and the novel upon which the movie Midnight Cowboy is based has not yet been written. Among the parts of SMC:ASLLatMoaDC that could have been cut out are a miniature biography of Sherwood Anderson (who possibly influenced the writing of Midnight Cowboy the book), some twenty pages on Joe Janni (a producer but not of Midnight Cowboy), and the arky, interminable subtitle.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alvin

    Voltaire said that, "The secret of being a bore is to tell everything." Shooting Midnight Cowboy proves him wrong. The book includes every last bit of information and analysis that could conceivably be relevant, yet somehow doesn't collapse under its own weight. Rather, it plunges the reader into the historical era from whence the film sprang, with particular focus on the underrated writer, James Leo Herlihy, who penned the book on which the move is based. Truth be told, there were moments when Voltaire said that, "The secret of being a bore is to tell everything." Shooting Midnight Cowboy proves him wrong. The book includes every last bit of information and analysis that could conceivably be relevant, yet somehow doesn't collapse under its own weight. Rather, it plunges the reader into the historical era from whence the film sprang, with particular focus on the underrated writer, James Leo Herlihy, who penned the book on which the move is based. Truth be told, there were moments when I did wish Frankel would reign in the digressions, but not that many. Overall a great book for anyone interested in filmmaking, homosexuality, and/or mid-20th century pop culture.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Ober

    It tells a whole world, and is disguised by a wonderful recreation of how a film is made. It is New York in the 60’s and now I need to watch this film I haven’t seen since I was a kid.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alisha

    This is like a biography for a cultural artifact. Frankel seamlessly stitches together the individual histories of all the key contributors to this film from the author of the book the screenplay was based on to the lead costume designer and everyone in between. This book is as much about the socio-cultural context of the film "Midnight Cowboy" as it is about the film itself. It engages with themes of trauma, sexuality, sexism, state violence, municipal divestment, urban renewal, mid-20th centur This is like a biography for a cultural artifact. Frankel seamlessly stitches together the individual histories of all the key contributors to this film from the author of the book the screenplay was based on to the lead costume designer and everyone in between. This book is as much about the socio-cultural context of the film "Midnight Cowboy" as it is about the film itself. It engages with themes of trauma, sexuality, sexism, state violence, municipal divestment, urban renewal, mid-20th century artistic culture, and the trappings of fame. The narrative is rich, well-crafted, and presented with the ease of reading fiction but is an incredibly well-researched history of a film that represented a generational shift in both Hollywood and the broader culture in the late 1960s. This is a must read for anyone who enjoys film, LGBTQ history, cultural history, or learning more about what New York City was **really** like before Times Square became Disney-fied. I strongly recommend this pleasurable read!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mediaman

    Completely wrong-headed 400-page book that only spends 50 pages on the actual titular shooting of Midnight Cowboy and over one-third of the book on things that have virtually nothing to do with the movie. The first hundred pages aren't about the movie at all. Nothing. Try to not doze off as you go into incredibly boring information about the book's author and a long tangential focus on homosexuality, which Glenn Frankel tries to convince us is what the movie is about. It's not. This book is reall Completely wrong-headed 400-page book that only spends 50 pages on the actual titular shooting of Midnight Cowboy and over one-third of the book on things that have virtually nothing to do with the movie. The first hundred pages aren't about the movie at all. Nothing. Try to not doze off as you go into incredibly boring information about the book's author and a long tangential focus on homosexuality, which Glenn Frankel tries to convince us is what the movie is about. It's not. This book is really an attempt by the author to make commentary on the treatment of gays in America, based on the life of the original author of Midnight Cowboy. But that's not the book that's sold to us in it's title and summary, so ultimately this book is a failure. When writing a book about the making of a movie, it might be wise to have the movie be the focus of the book. Instead Glenn Frankel tries to impress us with all the research he has done and his own crazy theories about how gay Midnight Cowboy is. The original novel's author says it's not gay. The gay director of the movie said the film isn't gay. The screenwriter says it's not gay, making sure the two leads are never seen in bed sleeping together, and the stars say it's not gay. So why does Glenn Frankel use the entire book to push the idea that this is a gay film? The simple answer is that the author is using the book as modern propaganda, trying to place current interests in the context of 50 years ago. It doesn't work. With all his journalistic background there is nothing objective about this book--it's non-stop subjectivity where the author spins everything to make a gay point about all of it. It's not that it's poorly written, it's that the writer is deceiving us into thinking the book is about Midnight Cowboy when in truth he goes off on politics, conservative America, Stonewall riots, British movies, the original author's follow-up book, the perceived mistreatment of gays in Hollywood, and MANY other things that have nothing to do with Midnight Cowboy. I could waste my time to list the dozens (if not hundreds) of ridiculous tangents the author goes off on that have virtually nothing to do with the movie Midnight Cowboy. But trust me when I say that despite 50 pages of end notes there is very little you can trust about this book. The writer's bias and mishandling of the information he found means we can't believe the conclusions he works overtime to draw. He shortchanges many more important aspects of movie-making to instead make statements about gays in New York and Hollywood. Then he fails to put it in the context of what the movie really did: ripped open popular movies to include lots of sex, straight and gay. That is the legacy of Midnight Cowboy, not what this writer tries to do with this book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    James Carter

    Spotting this one at the bookstore, I, of course, had to read Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic. I have seen the movie maybe four or five times the last 30 years, and it remains a timeless classic that made legends out of Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman. Absolutely one of the most memorable scenes in cinema history is them walking until a cab stopped dead on its tracks with the limp-footed Dustin yelling, "I'm walking here! I'm walking here Spotting this one at the bookstore, I, of course, had to read Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic. I have seen the movie maybe four or five times the last 30 years, and it remains a timeless classic that made legends out of Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman. Absolutely one of the most memorable scenes in cinema history is them walking until a cab stopped dead on its tracks with the limp-footed Dustin yelling, "I'm walking here! I'm walking here!" Regardless of that, there are tons of things to like about the film, being an integral part of the massive change that went from the boring, dated musicals and safe films to the radical, violent pictures such as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Bonnie and Clyde, The Wild Bunch, and Easy Rider, the kind that people absolutely wanted to see instead. The book is quite interesting in terms of trivia. It also dispels a few myths, most especially about the aforementioned scene and also the infamous X rating. Most of the content is quite good, only that I am going to have to disagree with the author for one film: Easy Rider certainly hasn't aged badly; it remains a very popular film. At least, I am glad that director John Schlesinger thought of Darling as one of his least favorite films because it was not that good and Julie Christie didn't deserve the Oscar. In my opinion, the best pictures of his career are Midnight Cowboy and Sunday Bloody Sunday; they are almost similar but quite different. All in all, Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic is a literary treat for all Midnight Cowboy fans.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lance Lumley

    I will say that if you never seen this film (like I have), the book may not interest you until you see the movie. It is probably better to see the movie and then read the text. The film is viewed as one of the best in history among critics. I am not a fan of either Dustin Hoffman or Jon Voight so it will not be on my watch list anytime soon. I like film books that talk about behind the scenes tension or stories , even who was originally cast to play the parts. There is little of this in the book I will say that if you never seen this film (like I have), the book may not interest you until you see the movie. It is probably better to see the movie and then read the text. The film is viewed as one of the best in history among critics. I am not a fan of either Dustin Hoffman or Jon Voight so it will not be on my watch list anytime soon. I like film books that talk about behind the scenes tension or stories , even who was originally cast to play the parts. There is little of this in the book (it does have the casting part), but the majority of the book describes how the film went from a book (with backgrounds on the book writer to the screenwriters etc) to the film and the theories of why it got the dreaded X rating. I did enjoy the chapter on how the Harry Nilsson song got chosen, being a music fan. The overall book is textbook format without an exciting flow- but if you like books like that, you will enjoy it- one can not diss the authors wonderful research that was put into the text. It just was more focused on the history of the gay lifestyle than one of a movie book. It will find its audience , but the book was lacking in interesting stories in my opinion. For an In depth review, visit my page at : https://lancewrites.wordpress.com/202...

  28. 5 out of 5

    tim

    This is my second Frankel book after The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood. This one is equally well researched and situated in its specific cultural moment. If you are old enough to recall the crazy late 60's into the haze of the drug-addled 70's - and of course, if you love film history, this is never boring. I was born in NYC and recall these days. Frankel makes the context of that time in the city come alive. I watched Darling, another of Schlesinger's great films while This is my second Frankel book after The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood. This one is equally well researched and situated in its specific cultural moment. If you are old enough to recall the crazy late 60's into the haze of the drug-addled 70's - and of course, if you love film history, this is never boring. I was born in NYC and recall these days. Frankel makes the context of that time in the city come alive. I watched Darling, another of Schlesinger's great films while I was reading this and the film added perspective to the wonderful details on the director. I recall so much of these times and here all sides of the story are fully fleshed out: stories on the cast, the writers, designers, executives, casting agents, the gay Time Square scene, and of course the all those who hoped for the roles and finally the brilliance of Hoffman and Voigt. The story of author James Leo Herlihy is fascinating. Frankel is brilliant at epilogues adding final perspectives. Hoffman remained a rake and a satyr and Voigt after his liberal politic work became a real Trump nutball. But who's to judge the mind and drives of gifted artists and Frankel, to his credit, does not. It's so well researched that it feels like the story was just waiting to be written, I have to now read his take on High Noon.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Francis

    Books like Glenn Frankel’s “Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic” profess to be about more than just the movies they’re describing. Similar to last year’s “The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood,” “Shooting” attempts to evoke a specific time-and-place, to say something about a bygone era and culture. Like TBG though, SMC achieves that goal only partially. Yes, Frankel has some compelling observations re: New York in the Books like Glenn Frankel’s “Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic” profess to be about more than just the movies they’re describing. Similar to last year’s “The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood,” “Shooting” attempts to evoke a specific time-and-place, to say something about a bygone era and culture. Like TBG though, SMC achieves that goal only partially. Yes, Frankel has some compelling observations re: New York in the ‘60s/’70s, especially the burgeoning gay subculture; indeed, SMC is at its strongest in chapters like Fun City and Explosions… However, the majority of the narrative is—like so many books about movies—given to minutiae. Want to hear personality-driven anecdotes about casting decisions and shooting locations? If so, SMC is for you. For the rest of us, though, it’s all a bit esoteric and dry. “Midnight Cowboy” is an impressive and daring movie, if not a rather depressing one. Its cultural significance as a work of art and time capsule is undeniable, so I guess I’m glad it mostly got a book worthy of that.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tom Holehan

    Following on the heels of Mark Harris' superb biography, MIKE NICHOLS: A LIFE, comes another brilliant chronicler of the entertainment scene, Glenn Frankel. This behind-the-scenes, thoroughly researched review about the making of one of the most notorious "Best Pictures" ever made is never less than fascinating. Best about Frankel's observations is his command of the period revealing the history of the gay liberation movement in conjunction with the making of a movie that changed all the rules. Following on the heels of Mark Harris' superb biography, MIKE NICHOLS: A LIFE, comes another brilliant chronicler of the entertainment scene, Glenn Frankel. This behind-the-scenes, thoroughly researched review about the making of one of the most notorious "Best Pictures" ever made is never less than fascinating. Best about Frankel's observations is his command of the period revealing the history of the gay liberation movement in conjunction with the making of a movie that changed all the rules. The author, James Leo Herlihy, and the director, John Schlesinger, are given primary focus here, but Frankel also gives voice not only to the lead actors (Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight) but most of the people in the background of the movie. To a fault, sometimes. There are sections of the book where Frankel digresses to give minor personalities a voice that often stops the book in its tracks. Still, this is a definitive history of an American classic that may send you back to re-watching Schlesinger's great film.

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