It would be impossible to underestimate the influence that at least 2 of John Schlesinger's films had on my life as a gay man. Midnight Cowboy (I was 15 years old when I saw this X rated film) & Sunday Bloody Sunday (I was 17) both contained mind blowing moments for me. Truly great films, they both have fascinating gay characters as well as homoerotic moments that lodged in my young gay mind & stayed through my middle age.
Jon Voight is luscious in Midnight Cowboy, & Murray Head is the poster boy for the sexy 1970's male in Sunday Bloody Sunday. Glenda Jackson checking out Murray's perfect physique as he showered made me consider how I felt when I stood next to beautiful boys in the showers after gym class. I kept sneaking a peek & wondering if any of them might ever be mine.
Sunday Bloody Sunday is an astonishing film for its time, the first film I ever saw where a gay man was rather "normal" & sympathetic, & where male attraction seemed inevitable & fated. The film asks: Is it better to share a lover than to have none at all? It is the story of 2 people, a gay middle-aged Jewish doctor played Peter Finch & a 30-ish working woman- Glenda Jackson, who are romantically intertwined with a boyish artist played by Murray Head who treats them both with a bit of ennui.
John Schlesinger was well reviewed & celebrated in his lifetime, but history has not been as kind. He won Oscars for Best Picture & Director in 1969, received nominations in 1965 & 1971, was still doing important work through the 1970’s, but made so many missteps in the 1980’s & 1990’s that when he made his last great feature film, it was all but ignored. He followed that up with the a couple worst films he ever made, the dreadful thriller Eye For An Eye & the miserable Madonna/Rupert Everett vehicle- The Next Best Thing (it must have seemed a good idea on paper) & then he died in 2003, remembered only with headlines- “Oscar winning director dies.”
But Schlesinger was a very important part of British cinema in the 1960’s, making the brilliant swinging London films- Darling, Billy Liar, A Kind Of Loving & the beautiful Far From The Madding Crowd. All were brilliant, with gorgeous production values & first rate acting. Schlesinger then moved to Hollywood & made such thoughtful films as Day Of The Locust & Falcon & The Snowman. It is true that his films after that rarely rose above mediocrity, but his last great film is truly a true treasure & one of the Husband & my all-time top 10 favorites films.
Technically, Cold Comfort Farm came out in 1995, & would have been Oscar eligible had it not played on TV in Britain. The film received good reviews but not much notice. Maybe it was a matter of timing, the film was riding the wave of Jane Austen films, though it is not Austen & set in the early 1930’s rather than the 19th century, but it was a British costume comedy of manners. How much more would it get noticed today now that Ian McKellen is known the world over for X-Men & Lord Of The Rings, & not just as the guy from the interesting Richard III, or that Kate Beckinsale is thought of as one of the world’s most beautiful women & not just the actress who was OK in Much Ado About Nothing.
Cold Comfort Farm is a divine peach of a film. Kate Beckinsale (wearing no black leather jumpsuits) portrays a city girl who goes to live with her cousins in the country & perhaps discover herself as a writer. The collection of very odd cousins include the crazed matriarch, the earthy Seth (Rufus Sewell) & an enigmatic preacher father, played by Ian McKellen in a fantastic & eccentric performance. Bryan Singer told McKellen, 2 years later while making Apt Pupil, that McKellen should watch this guy’s performance in Cold Comfort Farm to get some ideas, without realizing he was talking to the very same actor. Add in nutty, only slightly restrained performances by the great Eileen Atkins, Julia Margolyes, Joanna Lumley, & Stephen Fry for a great mix of humor & style.
The film has a happy ending, as a Hollywood producer enters the story, but the true happiness is that Schlesinger made one more excellent film, even if it was mostly ignored on impact.
Schlesinger survived a quadruple heart bypass in 1998, before suffering a stroke in December 2000. He was taken off life support in a hospital in Palm Springs on July 24, 2003 by his life partner of over 30 years, photographer Michael Childers. Schlesinger died early the following day at the age of 77 years old.
My favorites Schlesinger films:
• 1965 Darling
• 1969 Midnight Cowboy
• 1971 Sunday Bloody Sunday
• 1976 Marathon Man
• 1996 Cold Comfort Farm