• Shooting Midnight Cowboy

  • Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic
  • By: Glenn Frankel
  • Narrated by: John Pruden
  • Length: 13 hrs and 53 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (65 ratings)

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Shooting Midnight Cowboy

By: Glenn Frankel
Narrated by: John Pruden
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Publisher's Summary

A history of the controversial Oscar-winning film that signaled a dramatic shift in American popular culture

The 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 Eastmancolor 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 join.

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 1960s 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 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 the 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 theaters 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 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.

©2021 Glenn Frankel (P)2021 Blackstone Publishing

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Well done. Good insight into all aspects

Glenn Frankel's book about the making of the classic '60s film Midnight Cowboy rises to the occasion and gives an in-depth exploration behind the film, including the lives of the actors, writers, and focuses often on the director John Schlesinger. This is one of my favorite films, being a '60s buff, and this book gives all the details of filming in NYC, Texas, and FLA. It misses a few minor things, such as the opening credits being filmed in New Jersey and Tennessee Williams' cause of death--he repeats the original story that he choked on an eyedrop cap. Not true; he was using an eyedrop cap to take seconal capsules, and ODed on them. Not nitpicking; just setting the record straight.
Anyway we get to know the writer Jim (Jamie) Herlihy who used his movie fortune to explore the underside of the country including the communes at the time. We hear what happened to everyone post Midnight: Dustin had a long successful career until the false charges of Me Too hysteria came to his door. Jon Voight also found big success (both won Oscars), but then sadly went down the rightwing rabbithole ending at the Fascist door of Conald Chump. So sad.
John Schlesinger's legacy is also delved into; for everyone connected to Midnight it was the magnum opus of their careers. The thing is they didn't realize it until it was all over. The filming actually was done earlier than most probably realize: they ended the NYC shoot on July 9th, 1968.
Importantly Frankel correctly points out that Midnight, even though there is a gay undercurrent (Herlihy, Schlesinger and a few others on set were) the relation of Joe and Ricco was not. I.e. the author and director were not pushing that agenda. Just like Edward Albee's play Virginia Woolf was not. I mention that because when someone tried produce it with a 4 man cast, Albee himself shut it down.
But the books big scoop is supposed to be the X rating story. Frankel tears down the original story: that it was simply the MPAA that rated it X and Schlesinger wouldn't budge. Instead MPAA gave it an R and Arthur Krim of
United Artists wanted a second opinion so checked with friend-psychiatrist Aaron Stern, whom had an antigay bias of his profession at the time and recommended the X rating. I mean it was so obvious an R was correct, but as usual the psychologists got it wrong.
Anyway, Midnight was the culmination of 1960s culture and NYC decadence, including Andy Warhol's milieu. Which is another interesting portion: Morrissey's film within a film in which Warhol's "superstars" were paid $25 a day as extras...which was better than Andy's salary of zilch.
Finally the music is really what made the film: Nilsson's Everybody's Talkin' and John Barry's harmonica theme are classics of the era and sets the atmosphere of the whole film. If you doubt the importance of this try to picture Star Wars or Psycho with no music; same principal for Midnight.
If we were to blast a sampling of Earth's top films into space like with did with Pioneer and Voyager, I'd like to think that the aliens who find them will go through them and radio back to us: Send more Midnight Cowboy!

3 people found this helpful

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An outstanding look at an important film

I saw this film when I was 19, and it was very upsetting. Really rattled my brain. I saw it recently, and it felt dated. Didn't seem as remarkable as it had in 1969. This book, however, makes me examine the story, the novel, the film, and the director in a whole new light. It's a terrific tale. I learned so much.

2 people found this helpful

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Great book

The book is a very entertaining account on the way lightning strikes in cinema. A project like "Midnight Cowboy" comes around once in a lifetime and the book tells in rich detail why it was a critically and box office hit. Bravo.

1 person found this helpful

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A Complex Weave: Far Beyond The Making Of A Movie

Exceptional. The book covers so much more than the making of a movie. Carefully weaving together the individuals, the social movements of the period, the emergent Gay liberation, the author successfully creates the broad canvas that came together to form a movie that, still today, stands as a remarkable film with outstanding direction, acting, music, a cinematography.

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Brilliant Work

Thoroughly enjoyed listening to this read! not only a fine documentary of the making of my favorite movie, but also a vivid and informative history lesson about the industry, society and our world at Large. as a writer, I also have been informed about the Great lengths and passion it takes to turn dreams into art into reality. bravo!

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It’s not the original narration

Take care, guys!
There are two narrations on the online shop. “Shooting The Midnight Cowboy” is not the original book’s narration. I lost my credit for nothing. Nobody wants to pay me back.
Best of all,
Andrei.

1 person found this helpful

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Fantastic!

Everything you want in an audiobook about a great movie. Well edited & performed. Highly recommended.

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could not finish this book.

I have tried for months to try to enjoy this book but I cannot. I thought it would be more about the making of the movie. It was more about a chosen lifestyle of people who were connected to the movie. Had I wanted to read about chosen lifestyles I would have chosen a different book. I had hoped to read more about the mechanics of making the movie.

I just couldn't find time for this book... that is not to say that I didn't enjoy anything about the book... it was just not what I expected and Audible provides so many other options for my precious time. Maybe after I have read every other book that Audible provides I will come back and finish this book.