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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This afternoon, the Fox Movie Channel ran the trailer for The Panic in
Needle Park. I was intrigued, and when the movie followed (uncut--accept
nothing else) I watched. I am still stunned. This livid, documentary-style
look at a faction of society that most people prefer to ignore of simply
lock up is a brutal and powerful piece of cinema.
It is a film devoid of simple black and white categorizations. Bobby and Helen, deeply in love and deeply addicted to smack, are not bad people; rather they are people in a very bad situation--screwed up, screwed over, strung out, and doing whatever they can to survive. We watch as they go from "just chipping" to crippling, $80-a-day dependency. They steal, deal, hook, and shoot the profits into a scarred vein. A tone of bleak, tragic inevitability infuses their lives and the film. We care about them, but all we can do is watch; there are no offers of help, no outstretched hands. In an extremely telling moment, Helen says she wants to move out of Needle Park, to which Bobby simply responds, "It's where I live."
Panic has such a natural, improvisational feel that those existing on a diet of super-glossy cash-cow cinema may be put off. It is only slightly more polished than Andy Warhol's Trash, which it resembles by turns--from the camera that loses focus and trembles ever so slightly to the close-ups of needles sliding into veins. The gritty city is perfectly captured, with a tremendous atmosphere of desperation and misfortune. As Bobby, Al Pacino is marvelous (as usual), but I was really impressed by Kitty Winn in the role of Helen. I'd only seen her in The Exorcist, where she was mostly relegated to the background. Here, her portrayal is gut-wrenching, courageous, and unforgettable. I can say without a doubt, Needle Park is a must-see. It may not be pretty, but it's life.
This movie is not for people with sensitive nerves. Its harsh realism
is very breathtaking, at times almost overwhelming. It concentrates in
showing what drug addiction does to people in a relationship and
succeeds in doing that. That's also the reason for its timelessness and
Al Pacino and Kitty Winn, who plays the two main characters, Bobby and Helen, are very realistic in showing the ups and mostly the downs in the life of a drug addict. Especially the way they at times put their craving for drugs above each others needs.
The first time I saw the film I was 15. It was shown at my school and it made a very strong impression on me, especially its portrayal in the miserable life of a drug addict. I can therefore, among other things, recommend it as a preventive film for young people.
This is one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen. It is very real and grisly looking, not polished with the horrible artificial lighting you see nowadays in films. Bobby and Helen are addicts whose lives are going nowhere, they just can't get out of their destructive lifestyle. The scenes of the characters shooting up, tricking, and hanging in the brutal streets of 1970's New York are very realistic. Makes "Trainspotting" look like a Disney cartoon.
So I was scrolling through a Borders outside of London one day, looking
at all the expensive R2 DVDs I didn't have enough money for, when I
spotted a movie I had never even heard of starring Al Pacino - "The
Panic in Needle Park." It had the same front cover (style-wise) as
"Scarface," which was an obvious marketing ploy. It had a quote from
Francis Ford Coppola, which claimed he chose Pacino for "The Godfather"
after seeing the film and screening it to Paramount execs.
It had piqued my interest and it was only five pounds (roughly ten dollars) so I thought, "Why not? If it's awful it's still only five pounds." I bought it, went home later that night and watched it.
I was blown away because it was easily one of the more interesting character studies I'd ever seen. It's got unlikable characters, for sure, but there's still a connection to them which allowed me, at least, to relate to their struggles. (And no, I don't use heroin.) The film stars Al Pacino in one of his very first roles as a heroin addict living in New York City, an era dubbed "Needle Park," where all the junkies hang out. (I believe I saw the exact same park in another drug movie released the same year, called "Born to Win," starring George Segal and Robert De Niro.) Pacino gets a girlfriend and gets her hooked on heroin. Essentially the film just examines her downfall from prosperity to hellish misfortune - they both live for their next hit.
The movie is unflinching. It's raw, brutal, and uneasy. (I recall reading they actually hired heroin addicts for the "shoot-up" scenes, something that would never be allowed today.) I can understand how some people might be put off by the slow pace of the movie and say, "How can I be expected to enjoy a movie with such vile characters?" However, I thought it was handled well - it's on the verge of exploitation sometimes (primarily the scenes which show the junkies shooting up) but for the most part manages to walk a careful line between exploitation and study.
Pacino's performance is one of his best ever, which is a shame because he never receives credit for it. It's one of the only roles where he isn't in control and although he does yell a few times, for the most part he's more calm and subdued - Michael Corleone as a drug addict.
"The Panic in Needle Park" is a great, underrated film and I highly recommend it to anyone who thinks they can handle the content. It's not a rewarding experience in the typical sense but after spending two hours with miserable heroin addicts, it will make you feel better about your own lifestyle.
When I first saw this film, Al Pacino was an unknown actor, yet to play
in the Godfather. I usually just enjoy the movie, but I was surprised
by how fine an actor the star was. I wondered why I had never seen this
Pacino has made many fine films, but this one is actually one of his best..and very few people have ever heard of it. It used to be available on VHS, but has been out of print now for about twenty years. I was finally able to get a very expensive used copy from an internet vendor specializing in hard to get film.
I just hope that this comes out in DVD.
The film is a real throwback to the 1970's. It captures the pervasive
feeling of nihilism perfectly well, particularly on the subject of drugs.
The not so great colour and sound strangely add to the experience in making the film seem more documentary than a tale of two young people caught in the vortex of addiction.
Pacino and Winn both play remarkably believable leads.
It may not be an uplifting experience to watch the film, but in watching it, you cannot help feeling that it's a privilage to watch such mastery of directing and acting.
This is probably one of Al Pacino's best films. I would say that it is even better then "The Godfather" because you almost want to reach out and help the characters but you can't. They all have the same problem. That problem is heroin addiction and it has caused a multitude of problems in their lives. This is a great film. It is usually not shown on television (I did see it on PBS a few years ago but I think that was a rare exception) I think however, because of its realistic content most stations try not to air it. If you can find it on video I highly recommend it.
Director Jerry Schatzberg's style looks remarkably like Ingmar Bergman's in
works like "Scenes From a Marriage." Using no music background only real
life sounds, abrupt scene cutting and cross-cutting, highly realistic style,
and copious closeups, the Bergman influence is apparent.
Schatzberg fashioned a piece that has a timeless look and feel. While Verdi Square (Needle Park) may not be quite as rich with denizens today and that W. 72nd subway exit not as peopled with thick crowds, it's still bustling mid-Manhattan--like no other place on earth.
And no better actor to play the street savvy slicker than Al Pacino in only his second film appearance. He, Kitty Winn and a host of sharp protogees from the Strasberg seminars breathe life into the scenario.
It remains one of Mr. Pacino's best efforts, and a film that paved the way for a new realism in gritty subject material.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Panic In Needle Park is a gritty, often uncomfortable 110 mins in the company of lowlifes, pimps, prostitutes and dope addicts. *Possible Spoilers* The film itself is quite uncompromising, no morals, no redemption, just a street living couple who cannot decide whether they love smack or one another more. No doubt if this film was made today we'd have the rehabilitation programme and the tearful reunion once the two protagonists were 'clean' and ready to rejoin society. However, this is not for this film. The Panic In Needle Park is decidedly bleak, and offers us a slice of reality that not many of us see from our normal suburban lives. Jerry Schatzberg directs this movie with a documentary feel, and this, coupled with outstanding performances by Pacino and Winn, gives a very natural, flowing experience. Where Schatzberg did so well and many directors fail is in giving the viewer well sketched characters that you will genuinely get to know and empathize with, as you watch them flush their lives down the toilet. Of course it helps if you have Pacino and Winn playing them, and they really breathe life into the tragic lives of Bobby and Helen. Definitely one worth watching, unless you are depressed or have an aversion to seeing lengthy shots of half dead people putting dirty needles in their veins. But then I doubt heroin addiction is as hip as a sharp suited John Travolta jacking up and listening to cool tunes in Pulp Fiction.
One of the rawest images of drug addiction ever shown in a movie ! "Drugstore cowboy" and "trainspotting" turn into cartoons by seeing this film. Pacino and Wynn : what an impressive performance. One of the best ever ! The film shows a horrifying image of the junk life in the city of New York in the seventies. This motion picture does not have the sparkling colors and action, of expensive Hollywood productions nowadays and that is just the beauty of it ! It's the brutal reality that makes us realize what harder drugs can do to a persons life. Every fourteen year old kid should see this film because of the damage hard drugs can do. Forgive me, English is not my native language i hope people understand what i am trying to say. Anyway great movie and it should be better known ! What in the name happened to Jerry Schatzberg ?
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