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Friday, 9 September 2011

Film – The Panic In Needle Park (Special Edition)

Second Sight

Banned at the time of its original theatrical release in the UK because of its frank depiction of heroin addiction on the streets of contemporary New York, former fashion photographer Jerry Schatzberg's
1971 feature remains something of an unsung landmark of American cinema of the early ’70s not least because it features the first major screen role of one Al Pacino which directly led to the latter being
offered his career-defining role in The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola.

Located at the junction of Broadway and 72nd St, the Needle Park of the title (otherwise known as Verdi Square or Sherman Square) was at the time an infamous junkie hang out on the west side of Manhattan and the film unflinchingly captures the seedy, hand to mouth world of Bobby (Al Pacino), his girlfriend (Kitty Winn) and their coterie of small time hustlers all desperate to score their next fix. Based on the novel of the same name by James Mills, entirely shot on real locations, captured in muted hues by cinematographer Adam Holender (previously responsidle for the cinematography on an equally epochal
New York feature – John Sclesinger's Midnight Cowboy) and with the absence of a musical score only accentuating the film's gritty documentary flavour, The Panic In Needle Park opens the window on a
long gone down at heel New York of cheap hotels, dingy apartment buildings, fast food joints and pawn shops also familiar from such seminal New York films as The French Connection, Shaft and Mean

Unrelentingly bleak the tale of Bobby and Helen's descent into hell may well be but the remarkable performances from both Pacino whose edgy intensity lights up the screen and the equally superb Kitty Winn whose performance won her the best actress award at the ’71 Cannes Film Festival (where the film was also nominated for the Palme D'Or) make for truly compelling cinema.

This special edition DVD release comes with two documentaries – Panic In The Streets Of New York and Writing In Needle Park which feature revealing interviews with director Jerry Schatzberg (apparently Robert DeNiro was also considered for the role of Bobby), cinematographer Adam Holender and screenwiter Joan Didion respectively.
Grahame Bent

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