Desperate Souls, Dark City, and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy DVD Review

We always get typical making-of documentaries about movies and how they get made; we don’t usually get those that emphasize the time and culture in which they depict too often, and in many ways (for better and worse) late filmmaker, producer, and photographer Nancy Buirski’s Desperate Souls, Dark City, and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy (2022) just might be the first and most ambitious one of its kind that I’ve ever seen.

The late, great John Schlesinger’s gritty and controversial 1969 masterpiece Midnight Cowboy was the first (and only) X-rated film to ever win a Best Picture Academy Award and paved the way for a new, modern type of filmmaking. But that’s only a piece of the cinematic pie of why it remains one of the greatest films ever made.

More a document of a changing time than the making of a movie classic, Desperate Souls displays a troubling, dangerous, and nightmarish New York City (showcased in Midnight Cowboy) steeped in misery, drugs, political upheaval, violence, depravity, prostitution, and war. The subject of homosexuality plays a very big part in it, especially when it talks about Schlesinger’s coming-of age and living as a gay man coming to New York from London to make the film, and its subject matter.

There are audio clips of Schlesinger, screenwriter Waldo Salt, and co-star Dustin Hoffman, which is nice and informative. There are also great interviews and facts from several cast members: Brenda Vaccaro, Bob Balaban, and Jennifer Salt, as well as critics Lucy Sante and Jim Hoberman, who really have particularly intelligent things to say about how New York really was during the ’60s and the Vietnam War (which is shown in despairing detail).

It’s not a perfect watch, and I could have done without Jon Voight. Being a MAGA and right-wing maniac has taken a lot of his legacy and impact away, so I cringed every time he was onscreen, which is a problem now when I watch Midnight itself. Despite that, Desperate Souls is a genuine, mostly thoughtful, must-see, deep dive for fans of Midnight Cowboy, cinephiles in general, and people interested in cultural history.

Special features include an extended interview with Adam Holender, cinematographer of Midnight Cowboy; and trailer.

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