This film was held up for release after the Board of Regents of the Motion Picture Division of New York State's Dept. of Education viewed the film and refused to grant it a license to be commercially shown. This was mostly due to the repeated use (seven times) of a four-letter word that rhymes with "hit" and is used as a slang synonym for heroin. The film was judged obscene but opened without a license anyway at the D.W. Griffith Theater on October 3, 1962, only to receive several bad reviews from the major NY film critics. Director Shirley Clarke sued and a month later, the highest court in the state reversed the decision of the Board of Regents. However, the reputation of the film was already damaged and to this day, it has never recouped its original $167,000 budget.
The film is credited with helping to launch the Cannes Film Festival's parallel section known as International Critics' Week. In 1961 the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics successfully lobbied to have the film shown at Cannes. The festival, recognizing the importance of the film, gave the critics a week to showcase films beginning the following year in 1962.