PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK
DVD. Second Sight.
classic example of 1970’s cinematic realism, The
Panic in Needle Park is a particularly bleak tale of
drug addiction and despair that still packs quite a punch forty
years after first release.
The film follows the decline of Helen (Kitty Winn), who we first
see hospitalised after a failed backstreet abortion, as she becomes
involved with personable junkie Bobby (Al Pacino) – moving
from simply being his girlfriend to scoring drugs for him, getting
hooked on heroin herself and finally turning to prostitution to
make money. The ‘panic’ sets in when New York starts
to suffer a heroin scarcity, causing increasing desperation among
the junkies who now find prices rocketing, and Bobby in particular
who has moved up from simple user to low level street dealer but
now can’t get enough junk to sell. Throughout all this,
both Helen and Bobby make increasingly unrealistic promises to
clean up, while being pursued by the narcotic cops who want to
use them to help bring down the main supplier.
Director Jerry Schatzberg brings a documentary realism to his
story, all shot in the actual New York locations depicted in the
story, including the cramped apartments full of junkies, hustlers
and hookers. Shooting lots of street scenes with long lenses and
Eschewing any music soundtrack, the resulting film does look entirely
authentic, a fact helped by some cringingly graphic heroin injection
shots and the perfect performances by pretty much all the cast
– Winn in particular manages to make the transition from
a sweet, naïve girl desperate for affection to a hardened
junkie hooker seem very convincing, while Pacino is a powder keg
of emotions. Backed by a great supporting cast, the pair make
this doomed love story seem all too real. And the realism carries
on right to the final scene, where no easy answers or contrived
conclusions are reached.
in Britain in 1971 (don’t laugh – even in the late
1990s, the BBFC were still cutting ‘instructional’
drug imagery from films, presumably because without a movie to
show them what to do, potential heroin addicts would simply sit
staring at their bag of smack in befuddled bemusement), The Panic
in Needle Park is a classic example of 1970s cinema – the
sort of film that no-one would make today. It’s not exactly
cheery viewing (you probably won’t want to watch this with
a date), but it is something of a masterpiece.
Second Sight’s DVD comes with over 30 minutes of featurettes
from Severin Films, with Schatzenberg, cinematographer Adam Holdender
and writer Joan Didion filling in the background of the movie;
a nice addition to this essential movie..
IT NOW (UK)
IT NOW (USA)