The Party Scene-The Psychedelic Party at Hansel and Gretel’s apartment was one of the defining scenes in Midnight Cowboy. I have read other reviews where the authors have unbelievably suggested that the scene was extraneous and could have been omitted. This is absolutely ridiculous as the events at the party provide a turning point for Joe and a dichotomy of fate and choices that he must make that would affect his priorities and decisions and relationship with Ratso for the rest of the movie. John Hellman revealed in rich detail the making of the Psychedelic Party with use of supporting actors and many of Andy Warhol’s own friends. According to the producer, it was just a week-long orgy with plenty of sex and grass and it was amazing that they could pull off such a magnificent scene.
Joe and Ratso were luckily met by an androgynous pair of leather-bound metrosexuals, Hansel and Gretel Mac Albertson, and subsequently invited to a party. “Flesh and blood and smoke will be served after midnight” was written on the handbill, so seizing the opportunity, the down and out duo made their way to the scene, and what a scene it was. Once up the stairs after a touching moment with Joe wiping the sweat off the feverish Ratso, we were enveloped by smoke, psychedelic lighting and the haunting score of Old Man Willow by Elephant’s Memory. As the camera pans the warehouse apartment with the inevitable winding wrought stairs, we got the first look at Shirley, an exquisitely cute socialite with a knit mini, pixie haircut, rings on her fingers and a joint in her hand.
Joe was at first a mild curiosity to Shirley, but later grows into an obsession as she wants to take him home like a lost puppy. Brenda Vaccaro was simply smashing in this role, one of many splendid supporting actors and actresses that made this film what it was. Her body language and double-takes in the scene where she passed the joint to Joe were splendid and she spoke more words than dialogue could possibly say.
Although it was not explicitly stated, Joe Buck was probably experiencing pharmaceuticals for the first time in his life as the party picked up steam. The music, the lighting, the smoking incense and the crisp film editing created a dreamlike state that culminated with Joe and Shirley introducing themselves in the Dark Room. “Heeyyyy” Shirley cooed in a throaty, sexy voice in the pink lighting of the room that just oozed sensuality.
“Did you know we were going to make itâ¦Cowboy Whore?”, she stated, and they are soon on their way to her place for some heavy breathing, but with a surprise on the way to their inevitable culmination of animal passion. After a night of cribbage, sex and good-natured taunting, it would seem that Joe was finally on his way to making it as a stud, but things do not turn out that way as the inevitable tragedy must be consummated.