Desperate Souls, Dark City and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy

Released in 1969, “Midnight Cowboy” was famously one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to broach homosexuality without coyness; its protagonist, after all, Joe Buck (played by Jon Voight), is an insouciant street hustler and the film was X-rated in view of certain scenes showing this man plying his underground trade which the film’s director John Schlesinger (gay himself of course) resolutely refused to have shortened. And yet, as Nancy Buirski’s riveting new documentary about the movie delicately explicates, the real subject of the film is not so much raw male desire as the beauty of friendship: Joe and his strange crippled companion Ratso (wonderful performance by Dustin Hoffman) may or may not be lovers – in fact most likely not. What is important is that they love each other, and that the film dramatizes this with an admirably adult tenderness. So it is certainly a humanist classic, among other claims to fame. In fact, however, few films have left a more vivid impression of the turbulent decade. A crowd of hyper-articulate witnesses to the zeitgeist bear this out, among whom, the actors and actresses themselves, Voigt, Hoffman, Ben Balaban, Brenda Vaccaro and Jennifer Salt (daughter of the film’s blacklisted screenwriter Waldo Salt), along with delightfully suave cultural critics like Lucy Sante, J. Hoberman and John Schlesinger’s nephew Ian Buruma. It is a feast to the eye and the ear. Extracts from the original movie, historical archive footage, scenes of New York street life and vividly-shot interview

Nancy Buirski

Nancy Buirski was a filmmaker, producer, and photographer. Until the mid-1990s, Buirski worked as a photographer and picture editor for The New York Times. In 1998, she founded the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in collaboration with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and directed it for ten years. Her first own documentary film, "The Loving Story", appeared in 2011. Her second documentary, "Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq", followed in 2013. In 2015, Buirski’s film "By Sidney Lumet", a portrait of the American movie director Sidney Lumet, appeared, in 2017 Buisrki directed "The Rape of Recy Taylor". Buirski was also a Special Advisor to Summer of Soul (2020), the winner of Academy Award for Best Documentary, and she wrote, directed, and co-produced "A Crime on the Bayou" (2021). Buirski has produced several collections of Full Frame shorts and a collection of feature-length documentaries, such as "The Katrina Experience or Time Piece", as well as "Althea", a film about the Black tennis player Althea Gibson.

In memoriam of Nancy Buirski, who passed away in August 2023.