'Midnight Cowboy' Movie: John Schlesinger 'Adult' Best Picture Winner

by Andre Soares
Midnight Cowboy Jon Voight Dustin Hoffman
Midnight Cowboy with Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman.

John Schlesinger's 1969 socio-psychological drama Midnight Cowboy, one of the better best picture Oscar winners, will be screened as part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' “Monday Nights with Oscar” series on Monday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the Directors Guild of America Theatre in New York City.

David V. Picker, the executive-in-charge at United Artists during the making of Midnight Cowboy, will moderate an onstage discussion with Academy Award-winning producer Jerome Hellman, Academy Award-nominated (supporting) actress Sylvia Miles, actor Bob Balaban, cinematographer Adam Holender, composer John Barry, and costume designer Ann Roth.

Adapted by Waldo Salt from James Leo Herlihy's novel, Midnight Cowboy stars Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight (delivering what may well be the best performance of his career and one of the best performances of the 1960s) as two social outcasts – one lame, the other lame-brained – who become partners in the business of seducing rich dowagers so as to realize their own version of the American Dream.

Since Midnight Cowboy was made in the late 1960s – the beginning of a brief period when American studios had the guts (and the intelligence) to tackle complex material in an mature, honest manner – the film offers no final redemption, no moral punishment, and no rose-colored finale. Instead, from the moment Jon Voight's hopeful cowboy arrives in Manhattan to the last scene showing the two pals aboard a bus in sunny Florida, Midnight Cowboy never flinches away from its merciless portrayal of those for whom The Dream remains just that.

Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy

Midnight Cowboy earned seven Oscar nominations: Best Picture (Hellman, producer), Actor (Hoffman, Voight), Actress in a Supporting Role (Miles), Directing (Schlesinger), Film Editing (Hugh A. Robertson), and Writing - Screenplay based on material from another medium (Salt). It went on to win in the Best Picture, Directing and Writing categories. Voight (and Hoffman, for that matter) absurdly lost the best actor Oscar to John Wayne in True Grit – one of the Academy's most pathetic injustices.

It should be noted that at the time of its release, Midnight Cowboy – as a result of a subtly shot blowjob scene involving Bob Balaban's student and Jon Voight's cowpoke – received an X rating from the sexophobic Motion Picture Association of America, which that same year gave an R rating to the blood-soaked The Wild Bunch. (Today's equivalent of the old X would be the equally infamous NC-17.)

Jon Voight, John Schlesinger on set of Midnight Cowboy“My performance in that movie created the X rating for that film,” Balaban later told The Advocate, “and the rating was downgraded to an R when it won the Best Picture Academy Award [the downgrade came about in 1971, the year after the Oscar win]. There was a picture of me in Playboy when they did an issue about sex in the '70s. Isn't it funny that in 2002 I can play a gay part [in Gosford Park] and nobody even cares, yet in 1969 I played a gay part which almost stopped the movie getting released?

“I came from New York theater, and when you come from theater you tend to ask whether it was an interesting part or whether it was well-written. It never occurred to me that it would cause such a stir, and I was hardly nervous about whether my image could afford it, I was still in college and so excited about getting a film.”

As stated above, Midnight Cowboy was re-rated R in 1971, which shows the arbitrariness of those ratings. And let's not fool ourselves: in the early 21st century Bob Balaban may be allowed to play a gay character without giving censors a coronary, but had he given Ryan Phillippe a blowjob in Gosford Park, depending on how suggestive the sex bit, that film would have been slapped with or at least threatened with a NC-17 rating as well.

In any case, thanks to its male-on-male mouth-on-penis scene, Midnight Cowboy holds the distinction – and that is a distinction – of being the only X-rated motion picture to win the Best Picture Oscar.

Tickets for Midnight Cowboy are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. Tickets may be purchased online at www.oscars.org or by mail (a printable order form is available in the Events & Exhibitions section of the website (see Venues & Ticket Information). Tickets may also be purchased at the box office on the night of the event (subject to availability). The box office opens at 5:30 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. All seating is unreserved. For more information, call (212) 821-9251.

The DGA Theatre is located at 110 West 57th Street in New York City.

Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight Midnight Cowboy images: © A.M.P.A.S.

Sylvia Miles & John Barry: 'Midnight Cowboy' Screening

John Barry, Ann Roth, Adam Holender, Sylvia Miles, Jerome Hellman, David Picker

Update: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented the 1969 Best Picture winner Midnight Cowboy as part of the “Monday Nights with Oscar” series on Monday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the Directors Guild of America Theatre in New York City.

Pictured above (from left to right): composer John Barry, costume designer Ann Roth, cinematographer Adam Holender, Oscar-nominated actress Sylvia Miles, former United Artist executive and moderator David V. Picker and Oscar-winning producer Jerome Hellman.

Photos: Alex Oliveira / © A.M.P.A.S.

Sylvia Miles, David V. Picker
David V. Picker, Sylvia Miles

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