Tag Archives: Brenda Vaccaro

Midnight Cowboy (1969, John Schlesinger)

Midnight Cowboy gets to be a character study, but doesn’t start as one, which is an interesting situation. About forty-five minutes into the film, which runs just shy of two hours, Midnight Cowboy chucks the narrative urgency. Maybe not chucks, maybe just shuts down, because it does take the film a while to lose that pressure. Until eventually leads Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman are sitting around starving to death and the film’s not treating it as problem to be solved; it’s a feature of the characters’ lives. Midnight Cowboy is never a wish fulfillment picture–even when it’s not absent hope, it’s not hopeful–but it goes from being a bad dream to a nightmare without reflecting on the change. And the nightmare runs a lot differently.

The nightmare also starts when Dustin Hoffman becomes the costar who’s taking top billing. When the film initially introduces Hoffman, it doesn’t hint at where the narrative’s going; it also doesn’t forecast what to expect from the actors. Voight and Hoffman have got a lot of character development with almost no expository assistance. Midnight Cowboy is a film with two exceptional performances, both independently ambitious and both agreeably codependent. Director Schlesinger keeps it together–Hoffman and Voight squat in a hovel, their domestic normality utterly shocking and utterly not because the actors and Schlesinger have done such a good job conveying the physicality’s of their performances. It’s like a stage play, those scenes in the apartment, perfectly choreographed, even more perfectly edited by Hugh A. Robertson. It’s an acting ballet, with these two actors playing their previously established caricatures with immediate depth.

The bad dream part of the film, which has Voight arriving in New York City to hustle his cowboy-attired bod out to the wealthy ladies of the Big Apple. Voight has a troubled past, which Schlesinger and screenwriter Waldo Salt introduce through flashbacks, usually as dream sequences. Both sleeping and napping dream sequences. Basically, Voight’s always flashing back to something to explain why he’s reacting the way he’s reacting. There’s some narrative efficiency to it, I suppose, but they’re not incorporated well. Voight actually does the best with them, intentionally or not.

It all changes, soon after the nightmare begins, when Hoffman gets his own daydream. It’s a gently done sequence, both actors silent to the audience; excellent editing from Robertson on it. Midnight Cowboy never glamorizes–until this daydream sequence–and it’s mind-blowingly effective in establishing the new angle on the characters. Oddly, Hoffman entirely downplays having the daydream–which is the opposite of Voight–and hits some of the same effectiveness notes for that inverse approach.

In the second half of the film, once Hoffman shares the narrative focus, Midnight Cowboy works more as truncated vignettes. The main plot line is still Voight trying to make it as a hustler, but it’s narratively reduced. Instead, it’s Voight and Hoffman’s bonding over this idea, usually unspoken in every way. It’s a lot of amazing acting from both of them. Hoffman’s loud, Voight’s quiet.

There are some excellent supporting performances–Brenda Vaccaro in particular, John McGiver, Sylvia Miles.

Fine photography from Adam Holender. Midnight Cowboy’s about the editing and Holender keeps up with where Schlesinger needs the camera to be for the cut. Schlesinger just seems impatient until Hoffman gets into the picture full-time. He rushes the first part of the film, then drags it down with the acceptable and pragmatic but way too obvious flashback sequences.

And it all kind of falls apart when Vaccaro’s vignette is over. It’s like the film’s running late, so Schlesinger is rushing again only now he’s got two actors instead of one to hurry along. But the film’s still quite good and the lead performances are phenomenal.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Schlesinger; screenplay by Waldo Salt, based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy; director of photography, Adam Holender; edited by Hugh A. Robertson; music by John Barry; production designer, John Robert Lloyd; produced by Jerome Hellman; released by United Artists.

Starring Jon Voight (Joe Buck), Dustin Hoffman (Enrico Salvatore Rizzo), Sylvia Miles (Cass), John McGiver (Mr. O’Daniel), Brenda Vaccaro (Shirley) and Barnard Hughes (Towny).


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Supergirl (1984, Jeannot Szwarc), the director’s cut

Supergirl never really had a chance. The Superman-inspired opening credits lack any grandeur, ditto with Jerry Goldsmith’s lame music. Goldsmith improves somewhat throughout, but the lack of a catchy theme song hurts the film.

The film has a few things going for it, however, including Helen Slater in the lead and Szwarc’s direction. A handful of scenes are quite good, hinting at what a better script might have been able to embrace. Unfortunately, David Odell’s script is moronic. He doesn’t just give Supergirl a dumb villain (Faye Dunaway must have been really desperate for work), he doesn’t even give Slater a story arc. There are hints at one–when Slater gets to Earth, she’s finally smarter. The opening (with Mia Farrow and Simon Ward looking embarrassed as Slater’s parents) suggest she’s kind of slow, or at least unfocused.

The trip to Earth, the film can’t help but implying, matures her.

There are also some excellent special effects. Even when the effects don’t work, it isn’t because they’re not competent, it’s because it’s a dumb idea. Dunaway’s an evil witch. It’s a flying superhero versus a witch. There isn’t a lot of room for good action set pieces with that scenario.

Other than Slater, the best performance is probably Hart Bochner as her love interest. He’s not good, just not terrible. I suppose Peter Cook is only embarrassing himself, not bad. Brenda Vaccaro, Jeff to Dunaway’s Mutt, is atrocious.

Slater’s performance deserves a better film. It’s unfortunate Supergirl doesn’t deliver.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc; screenplay by David Odell, based on a character created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Malcolm Cooke; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Timothy Burrill; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Helen Slater (Kara), Faye Dunaway (Selena), Hart Bochner (Ethan), Brenda Vaccaro (Bianca), Maureen Teefy (Lucy Lane), Peter Cook (Nigel), Simon Ward (Zor-El), Mia Farrow (Alura), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), David Healy (Mr. Danvers) and Peter O’Toole (Zaltar).


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