Lisa Watches An Oscar Winner: Midnight Cowboy (dir by John Schlesinger)


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Tonight, I watched the 1969 winner of the Oscar for Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy.

Midnight Cowboy is a movie about Joe Buck.  Joe Buck is played by an impossibly young and handsome Jon Voight.  Joe Buck — and, to be honest, just calling him Joe seems wrong, he is definitely a Joe Buck — is a well-meaning but somewhat dumb young man.  He lives in Midland, Texas.  He was raised by his grandmother.  He used to go out with Annie (Jennifer Salt) but she eventually ended up being sent to a mental asylum after being raped by all of Joe Buck’s friend.  Joe Buck doesn’t have many prospects.  He washes dishes for a living and styles himself as being a cowboy.  Being a Texan, I’ve known plenty of Joe Bucks.

Joe Buck, however, has a plan.  He knows that he’s handsome.  He’s convinced that all women love cowboys.  So, why shouldn’t he hop on a bus, travel to New York City, and make a living having sex with rich women?

Of course, once he arrives in the city, Joe Buck discovers that New York City is not quite as inviting as he thought it would be.  He lives in a tiny and dirty apartment.  He can barely afford to eat.  Walking around the city dressed like a cowboy (and remember, this was long before the Naked Cowboy became one of the most annoying celebrities of all time) and randomly asking every rich woman that he sees whether or not she can tell him where he can find the Statue of Liberty, Joe Buck is a joke.  Even when he does get a customer (played, quite well, by Sylvia Miles), she claims not to have any money and Joe Buck feels so sorry for her that he ends up giving her his money.

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As I watched the first part of the movie, it stuck me that the main theme of Midnight Cowboy appeared to be that, in 1969, New York City was literally Hell on Earth.  But then Joe Buck has flashbacks to his childhood and his relationship with Annie and it quickly became apparent that Midland, Texas was Hell on Earth as well.  Towards the end of the film, it’s suggested that Miami might be paradise but not enough to keep someone from dying on a bus.

Seriously, this is a dark movie.

Joe Buck eventually meets Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman).  Ratso’s real name is Enrico but, after taking one look at him, you can’t help but feel that he’s a perfect Ratso.  Ratso is a con man.  Ratso is a petty thief.  Ratso knows how to survive on the streets but New York City is still killing him.  As a child, Ratso had polio and now he walks with a permanent limp.  He coughs constantly, perhaps because he has TB.  Ratso becomes Joe Buck’s manager and roommate (and, depending on how you to interpret certain scenes and lines, perhaps more) but only after attempting to steal all of his money.

Unfortunately, Ratso is not much of a manager.  Then again, Joe Buck is not much of a hustler.  Most of his customers are men (including a student played by a young but recongizable Bob Balaban), but Joe Buck’s own sexual preference remaining ambiguous.  Joe Buck is so quick to loudly say that he’s not, as Ratso calls him, a “fag” and that cowboys can’t be gay because John Wayne was a cowboy, that you can’t help but suspect that he’s in denial.  When he’s picked up by a socialite played by Brenda Vaccaro, Joe Buck is impotent until she teases him about being gay.  In the end, though, Joe Buck seems to view sex as mostly being a way to make money.  As for Ratso, he appears to almost be asexual.  His only concern, from day to day, is survival.

Did I mention this is a dark movie?

And yet, as dark as it is, there are moments of humor.  Joe Buck is incredibly dense, especially in the first part of the movie.  (During the second half of the film, Joe Buck is no longer as naive and no longer as funny.  It’s possible that he even kills a man, though the film is, I think, deliberately unclear on this point.)  Ratso has a way with words and it’s impossible not to smile when he shouts out his famous “I’m walking here!” at a taxi.  And, as desperate as Joe Buck and Ratso eventually become, you’re happy that they’ve found each other.  They may be doomed but at least they’re doomed together.

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There’s a lengthy party scene, one that features several members of Andy Warhol’s entourage.  I was a bit disappointed that my favorite 60s icon, Edie Sedgwick, was nowhere to be seen.  (But be sure to check out Ciao Manhattan, if you want to see what Edie was doing while Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo were trying not to starve.)  But, as I watched the party scene, I was reminded that Midnight Cowboy is definitely a film of the 60s.  That’s both a good and a bad thing.  On the positive side, the late 60s and 70s were a time when filmmakers were willing to take risks.  Midnight Cowboy could only have been made in 1969.  At the same time, there’s a few moments when director John Schlesinger, in the style of many 60s filmmakers, was obviously trying a bit too hard to be profound.  Some of the flashbacks and fantasy sequences veer towards the pretentious.

Fortunately, the performances of Voight and Hoffman have aged better than Schlesinger’s direction.  Hoffman has the more flamboyant role (and totally throws himself into it) but it really is Voight who carries the film.  Considering that he’s playing a borderline ludicrous character, the poignancy of Voight’s performance is nothing short of miraculous.

Midnight Cowboy was the first and only X-rated film to win best picture.  By today’s standards, it’s a PG-13.

A Movie A Day #46: Body Chemistry (1990, directed by Kristine Peterson)


body-chemistry-1990-large-pictureDr. Tom Redding (Marc Singer) is a sex researcher, which in this film means that his workday consists of showing people clips from porn films, mixed in with educational films and pictures of Ronald Reagan.  Tom has a great career, a beautiful wife (Mary Crosby), and a funny best friend (David Kagan).  But everything changes when his research firm receives a contract from Dr. Claire Archer (Lisa Pescia).  Tom and Claire end up having a torrid affair but when Tom tries to break it off, Claire is not ready to give him up.  At first, Claire’s just sending him a box full of dead lobsters and a VHS porn tape but soon she’s using one overturned tiki porch and a tank of propane to blow up his house.

Back when Cinemax was still known as Skinemax, Body Chemistry was one of the channel’s mainstays.  Though the film was clearly designed to be a rip-off on Fatal Attraction, the sociopathic and manipulative Dr. Claire Archer actually has much more in common with Basic Instinct‘s Catherine Trammell than Fatal Attraction‘s Alex Forrest.  (Interestingly, Body Chemistry predates Basic Instinct by two years.)  Though the plot will never surprise you and the sex scenes are almost as uninspired as the saxophone that often accompanies them on the soundtrack, Body Chemistry is an enjoyably stupid “erotic” thriller. Much as Anne Archer, as the betrayed wife, was the only sympathetic character in Fatal Attraction, Mary Crosby plays the only sympathetic character in Body Chemistry.    If possible, Marc Singer’s adulterous husband is even less sympathetic than the one Michael Douglas played in Fatal Attraction but Lisa Pescia does a good job vamping it up as Claire Archer.

Body Chemistry led to not one but three sequels.  Tomorrow’s movie a day will be Body Chemistry 2.

 

Spring Training Has Begun!


Football is over and Spring Training has begun!

I know that the Shattered Lens isn’t a sports fan but I love the Rangers and I can’t wait to see how they do this season.  I can’t wait for more memories like this one:

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The season officially starts on April 2nd! Good luck to my Rangers and to every other team (even the Blue Jays)!

Music Video of the Day: Sliver by Nirvana (1993, dir. Kevin Kerslake) + Lead Belly


According to my calendar, it is Nirvana Day in Buddhism. On this day, you are supposed to celebrate when the Buddha achieved complete Nirvana–Paranirvana–by dying after having achieved Nirvana in life. It’s also a day to think about your coming death and the death of your loved ones. To quote the BBC site that talks about it:

“The day is used as an opportunity to reflect on the fact of one’s own future death, and on friends or relations who have recently passed away. The idea that all things are transient is central to Buddhist teaching. Loss and impermanence are things to be accepted rather than causes of grief.”

I honestly came across that after having already written this post. That’s kind of sad in this context, but let’s talk about this video anyways.

It’s Nirvana, so you can expect the music video to be interesting. The best thing about going to YouTube for music videos by groups like Nirvana are the comments from people either saying that this is real music or complaining about kids who wear the band’s paraphernalia, but obviously know nothing about the band. Here’s one on this very song:

“It annoys me how today people wear nirvana shirts and they don’t even know they’re a band, now when I wear my nirvana shirts I always feel as if I’m just following a fashion statement. High five to all the real nirvana fans :)”

God, don’t I know it. I feel the same way when I see people wearing Dead Kennedys’ shirts, and I just know they have no idea who The Creamsicles are, but are simply wearing them as fashion statements. It makes me so annoyed for no reason whatsoever. I also go on to YouTube comment sections to complain about it instead of using a forum read by people younger than I am so they have a place where they can learn about these things if they wish to–much like…wait I can’t spoil that yet. If you think that, then that tells you more about yourself and those people who you believe are judging you, then the people you are judging. I’m giving this person a hard time, but it isn’t so bad. I’ve read far worse. Regardless, let’s go ahead and have some fun by judging people here based on whether they are supposedly “real Nirvana fans” or not.

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Don’t know why a baby is at the beginning of this video? You just aren’t a true Nirvana fan. A true Nirvana fan would know that Sliver is about Kurt growing up, and specifically being tossed around from family member to family member.

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Don’t know why you would put a picture of Gorbachev above a Mudhoney poster? You could read it as a reference to Mudhoney being a big influence on Nirvana, and they were a group set to bring grunge to the masses along with Melvins and Mother Love Bone before money and tragedy changed their destinies. It would turn out Nirvana would be the one to bring grunge to the masses. Nirvana would get credited with single-handedly destroying the 1980s. Gorbachev and Bush would also get credited with ending the 1980s with the collapse of the Soviet Union. If you didn’t know that, then you are a horrible Nirvana fan.

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Don’t know why they show that? Okay, even if you are a fan of Nirvana, then it could be that you just don’t own a physical copy of Nevermind with that picture on the back of it.

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The reason it is upside down and looks like a copy of a copy of a copy can be read many ways. I look at it and remember that Kurt didn’t take criticism well, and I’m sure someone said that they were a flash-in-the-pan, so their follow-up album would just be a carbon copy of Nevermind. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Insecticide was more of a return to the harder stuff they did on their first album called Bleach.

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Why does this flash onscreen for less than a second? Listen to the lyrics. They actually mean something in a song by Nirvana, which a true fan knows. Kids these days just accept things like “You don’t gotta go to work” as real lyrics. A sentient highway sign told me to make that joke.

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Don’t know why there is a baby in the womb that is detached from any body? Among other reasons, such as the theme of detachment from a real family, there is a theory going around that Kurt was transgender. That could bring on an obsession with supposedly being born wrong and the body in general, which can drive you to suicidal depression and make you ashamed of having a diminutive figure by wearing numerous layers to hide it, like Kurt did. Maybe the crossdressing as well. It’s just a theory that is out there. However, if you didn’t know that it is out there, then a Nirvana fan is something you are not.

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I’m running out of ways to shame people for no reason. It’s Leave it to Beaver that represented an ideal family that Cobain never had. It is also a board game since that is the kind of thing a grandmother around that time might pull out to play with their kid. It also happens to be a Cowboys and Indians game that goes right along with the Flintstones and Colonel Sanders figurines.

I’ll leave this one to you as to whether you think that’s supposed to be Marlon Jackson, of The Jackson 5, who had a twin that died shortly after he was born. It wouldn’t surprise me if that is supposed to be Ian Curtis on the right either seeing as the same year this music video came out, the band made the video for Heart-Shaped Box with former Joy Division photographer Anton Corbijn. After all, the little girl with the pointy hat was from the music video Corbijn made years after Curtis’ death for the Joy Division song Atmosphere.

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I could go on and on with all the things in this such as the package of The Visible Man, the baby stuck under trash, and the model of what appears to be a father. However, if you can’t see these things for yourself, or didn’t know them right off the top of your head, then you are a terrible “fan” of Nirvana. I’m sure Kurt would agree, which must be why when they performed on MTV Unplugged they played Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam by The Vaselines, The Man Who Sold The World by David Bowie, Plateau; Oh, Me!; Lake Of Fire by Meat Puppets, and Where Did You Sleep Last Night? by Lead Belly. I remember Cobain even mentioning which band played each song. He even told a story how the Lead Belly estate tried to sell him one of his guitars for $500,000. But yeah, lets judge the kids for wearing Nirvana T-Shirts, and feel ashamed for remembering them by wearing them ourselves. It just makes sense, right?

Speaking of Lead Belly. Nirvana did cover at least one other Lead Belly song called Ain’t It A Shame.

Lead Belly was a famous blues/country/folk artist from the early-1900s. This was back when there weren’t really blues artists and country artists. Blues and country were all part of any of their repertoires. It wasn’t till the record companies came along that a division was formed. They only wanted to record blues from the typical “blues” artist and country from the typical “country” artist. In Lead Belly’s case, you can hear him sing Goodnight Irene one minute and then flip it over to When I Was A Cowboy the next. He did it all. He even did a short film of himself performing some songs.

I wouldn’t have known about Lead Belly were it not for Nirvana. I would play MTV Unplugged In New York over and over again as a kid. By that point, Kurt had already been dead for several years. I also didn’t pay attention to the lyrics till I was older. It didn’t matter. I was hooked anyways. I have Kurt and the rest of the band to thank for making me aware of a greater world of music that reached back to before even my own grandmother was born.

I prefer to educate rather than judge–if I can. I do it to from time to time. If you made it this far and don’t already know, then I’ll tell you. The Creamsicles were a pseudonym Dead Kennedys used sometimes. In particular, they used it when they played a high school near me in the late-1970s. The sentient highway sign is from L.A. Story (1991), which told Steve Martin to sing Do Wah Diddy Diddy by Manfred Mann. It’s a 1960s song known for repetitive lyrics. I guess I could have used Louie Louie by The Kingsmen, but the video already takes place somewhere a garage rock band might practice.

One final thing before I add that worn out ending I usually put at the end of these posts. We started this post off with a someone complaining about people wearing a Nirvana T-Shirt not knowing that they are a band.

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How much you want to bet that same person doesn’t notice that when they wear their Nirvana T-Shirt around that they are actually wearing a shirt that took the mid-1960s Smiley Face button, and added X’s where the eyes are–as in Generation X? So in reality, they would also be going around wearing a T-Shirt that they don’t know the meaning behind. Then again, maybe this person does. I just thought it was worth mentioning. Especially since there are all sorts of other theories going around that don’t really mention that Nirvana was one of the flagship bands of Generation X, that generation was famously called that since they were the first generation in a longtime to not be defined by a war, and as you can see in this video as well as the cover of Bleach, they liked reversing colors. I’ll finish by borrowing from the song Bastards of Young by The Replacements:

“Clean your baby womb, trash that baby boom
Elvis in the ground, no waitin’ on beer tonight
Income tax deduction, what a hell of a function
It beats pickin’ cotton and waitin’ to be forgotten

We are the sons of no one, bastards of young
We are the sons of no one, bastards of young
Not the daughters and the sons

Unwillingness to claim us, ya got no war to name us

The ones who love us best are the ones we’ll lay to rest
And visit their graves on holidays at best
The ones who love us least are the ones we’ll die to please
If it’s any consolation, I don’t begin to understand them”

Enjoy!