This riveting biography of the famed director John Schlesinger begins as author William J. Mann is interviewing the man at his home in Palm Springs. John has just had
a triple bypass operation followed by a stroke, which has left him paralyzed on one side, confined to a wheelchair, and almost voiceless.
But his mind is far from crippled, and he can nod, shake his head, and sometimes answer questions in a brief, unexpectedly pointed whisper. While Michael Childers, John's lover and partner for many years, attends to his needs, friends occasionally pop in for a visit - Julie Christie and Brenda Vaccaro, all tearful at John's hopeless condition.
Mann uses this sense of immediacy to great effect in Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger, and the end result is a biography of man who for more than twenty years used his creative energy, intuition, and willingness to take risks to push the cinematic envelope.
Fame, of course, came with Darling, which not only made the beautiful Julie Christie an international star but also mirrored the sexual revolution and raised the bar with onscreen frankness. But it was Midnight Cowboy and Sunday Bloody Sunday that were great cinematic breakthroughs.
Sunday Bloody Sunday, with its first onscreen same-sex kiss, boldly rejected "moral" judgment in its account of a middle-class London doctor and a professional woman's feelings, presenting both kinds of love as equally natural. In Midnight Cowboy, Jon Voight's naive hustler from Texas foresees a future for himself in New York as a stud for affluent lonely ladies, but failure plummets him to the city's harsh and seamy underside instead.
Schlesinger's films overthrew convention and dared to embrace radical form and content. He wanted to show the human condition and the illusions of love, and his films were all about adult themes - the difficulties of maintaining relationships, abortion, extramarital affairs, and homosexuality. He wanted to make films about "people pushed on to an edge," and also about people who were regarded as the underdogs, the outsiders in society.
Mann has indeed written a formidable account of this director's life, and the biography is a wonderful patchwork of tidbits including interviews with the people he helped make famous - Alan Bates, Julie Christie, Glenda Jackson, Martin Sheen, Ian McKellan, and Dustin Hoffman.
What evolves is a fascinating portrait of a tormented man whose quirky pessimism notwithstanding lived a life relatively free of personal demons. Comfortable with his sexuality and totally committed to making movies, "his art came not from discontentment with life, but rather from a love of it."