Panic in Needle Park

Dir: Jerry Schatzberg, 1971. Starring: Al Pacino, Kitty Winn. English. Drama.
Panic in Needle Park

This is a film that speaks without fringe: no fancy lighting, no overblown plot, no music cues, not even a satisfying conclusion. It is a dark and human depiction of real characters, in a very real situation.

Panic in Needle Park is a story of two people who fall in love in the triangular intersection of Broadway and 72nd St. in New York City’s “Needle Park” – also known today as Sherman Square. Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne adapted the screenplay from James Mill’s novel Panic in Needle Park. In Al Pacino’s second film appearance, he portrays a small-time hustler and drug addict named Bobby who becomes the solace and lover of homeless girl Helen, played by Kitty Winn. The two young lovers become involved in the downward spiral of heroin and betrayal. Heroin invades their passion for each other, yet it becomes their drive to stay together.

What strikes me most about this film is the way the story is portrayed. The cinematography is so gorgeous and stunning because it is so rough in its cinéma vérité style. Unfocused photography, natural lighting, improvised acting - essentially, the film was treated like a documentary, and that is a move of courage on cinematographer Adam Holender and director Jerry Schatzberg’s part. Somehow New York City during this time period seems so glamorous in its harsh realities. The performances are on point as well – Al Pacino’s character is so engaging I forget it is Al Pacino, and Kitty Winn won the Best Actress award at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of Helen. In fact, it becomes hard to watch her because you hate watching a helpless girl fall into trap after trap.

Panic in Needle Park is believed to have the first close-up of a drug injection in a mainstream film. It is also a drug-film that carries no in-your-face agenda. The ending of the film proves that this is a rugged portrayal of a tragic and complicated situation in New York City’s history.

Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jul 6, 2009 11:46am
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