Viewed 22 August 2020. Blu-ray
This 1969 Oscar winner had a bit of a backlash at the time of release and was one of the few ‘x’ certificate movies to get nominated let alone win. I’d always been aware of it and heard it was a classic but only now gotten around to seeing it. Jon Voight, screen legend and father to Angelina Jolie … plays a naive, sort of man-child from Texas who travels to New York to find his fortune as a hustler / gigalo. However reality soon comes crashing down after various encounters leaves him desperate for money. At the same time, he befriends Ratso, a streetwise conman and petty thief, played by Dustin Hoffman.
Gritty and at times moving, this tale explores loneliness and the harsh realities of life with a semi-whimsical vibe, with strong turns from both Voight and Hoffman. Direction from British filmmaker John Schlesinger (Marathon Man) is occasionally surreal and other times psychedelic, whilst not shying away from sex, gay culture, the drugs scene etc. despite not being the movie’s focus. Instead, this is an exploration of unconventional friendship, following one’s (hopeless) dreams which proved very effective – especially in the closing moments. The various side characters also stood out, and the setting of New York, the period and the music, with a score by John Barry and that timeless ‘Everybody’s Talking’ by Nilsson all added to the charm.
I’d have liked to know more about Hoffman’s character and his mystery illness, and other details like Voight’s troubled background I’d have liked explored further – although the flashbacks do a decent job. Overall a surprisingly powerful and rather enjoyable experience.
The Blu-Ray from the U.K. division of The Criterion Collection has a very interesting commentary from the director as well as producer Jerome Hellman. We also get several featurettes that offer interviews (new and archive), behind the scenes footage, as well as a photo gallery and a fold-out booklet with a new write up on the movie by critic Mark Harris. The movie, a new 4K restoration retains that grainy, at times overly-soft late 60s / early 70s look but offers vibrant colours and depth to the image. Sound is in the original mono or a new 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. Decent treatment for one of the few ‘classics’ worthy of the title.
(the movie) Recommended
(the Blu-ray) Recommended