Drug Addled Bobby

The Panic in Needle Park (1971). USA. Directed by Jerry Schatzberg. With Al Pacino, Kitty Winn, and Alan Vint.

Relative newbie Al Pacino entered the public’s conscience in Godfather (1972) as well-intentioned, reluctant gangster heir Michael Corleone.  Director Francis Ford Coppola dominated critical and proletariat success with that trilogy, and Pacino as the leader upon which action revolved became a secure casting choice.  Pre-mobster popularity, Pacino had been associated with as a supporting character “Tony” in Me, Natalie (1969) before a starring role in The Panic in Needle Park (1971).

Film Forum attributes ownership to Pacino and 1970s in series Pacino’s 70s.  The Panic in Needle Park (1971) depicts lovelorn addict Bobby eking out an existence with his new beau Helen (Kitty Winn).  This rare print resulted in a nearly packed theater.  Many facets to this film hold interest like there being no soundtrack and Coppola using this film to convince skeptical Paramount Pictures executives that Pacino could shine as Michael Corleone.  Moreover, the vivid drug use with needles breaking skin and blood filling the vial before reshooting into the vein.  Rated R is death for minimally funded and marketed films, thus scenes and obscenities were cut.  In one of the last scenes, I cannot imagine the impact of betrayal would have been as devastating with a euphemism for Bobby’s damning cry toward Helen.

When I watched Pacino in Godfather, he felt stiff and insecure which I fully comprehend as his character and not an amateur sensibility of his profession.  Witness Pacino of Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon in this dusted off print.  Needle Park is a New York City heroin public space known as Sherman Square by Urban Planners.  72nd and Broadway has transformed from those years.  Redemption eludes Bobby and Helen.  They are bound together in despair and depravity that even with horrible abuses stay together albeit ghosts of their former selves.  Due to Helen’s silence about her Midwest family and pinpointing a recent abortion, audiences build unspoken narratives to her current limbo.  Her first male partner Marco (Raul Julia, later ubiquitous for The Addams Family) unexpectedly is better by comparison.  What choices.  Helen is a shell allowing Bobby’s antics to echo in her hollow chamber.  A knowing cop plays white knight for Helen in this unwholesome broken fairytale.  Later awards for Winn reaffirm this finely crafted character.

The introductory credits stirred surprise.  Entertainment writer Dominick Dunne was listed as producer with scriptwriters wife and husband team Joan Didion (journalist) and John Gregory Dunne, brother of Dominick.  Using material from fittingly by John Mills’s articles in Life, this cadre of writers banded to make this unsettling rendition.  Cannes took note awarding Kitty Winn Best Actress and nominating director and photographer Jerry Schatzberg for the Palme d’Or.

Authentic and acted with zeal, The Panic in Needle Park was a bold enterprise.

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