The Panic in Needle Park

The Panic in Needle Park

DVD - 2005
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Presents a stark portrayal of life among a group of heroin addicts who hang out at Sherman Square or "Needle Park" in New York City. Played against this setting is a low-key love story between Bobby, a small-time thief and addict, and Helen, a homeless girl abandoned by her lover after an illegal abortion.


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They don't make 'em like they used to. PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK is an example of an auteur Hollywood film. The auteur in this case would be Jerry Schatzberg. The old studio system was beginning to disintegrate under pressure from films like EASY RIDER (1969). Gritty cinéma vérité movies were au courant. This is my favorite period in American film. (Another tremendous Schatzberg picture from this era is 1973's SCARECROW, also starring Pacino.) PANIC is flawless. Great shots of early '70s Manhattan. Doesn't pull punches depicting junkie squalor. Terrific ambiguous, open-ended conclusion.

Dec 14, 2014

Banned in the UK for four years due to its explicit portrayal of drug use, Jerry Schatzberg’s thoroughly depressing, heroin-laced love story was actually filmed in and around New York’s infamous Sherman Square, dubbed “Needle Park” by the addicts haunting it’s nearby streets and slums. Newly arrived from Fort Wayne Indiana, lonely straw-haired bohemian Helen finds herself pursued by Bobby, a petty thief, low level pusher and full-time junkie who seems to offer her the love and security she craves. At first attracted to his manic energy and spontaneous personality Helen is able to overlook the squalor and coked out friends that seem to hover around Bobby. But when she goes from sharing his bed to sharing his needle a destructive pattern of dependency and despair sends her life spiraling out of control leading to one final desperate act of betrayal. With its street level camerawork, garbage-strewn sets and soundtrack of urban clamour, Needle Park’s unrelenting aura of hopelessness provides one of cinema’s most convincing anti-drug messages. With the exception of Kitty Winn’s anesthetized performance as Helen, the supporting cast’s portrayal of lives best unlived is at once morbidly fascinating and deeply repellant; with Al Pacino’s standout performance as Bobby dominating every scene. Keeping his characters at an emotional arm’s length, Schatzberg neither romanticizes the drug culture they’re immersed in, nor does he demonize it. As the dispassionate lens of his handheld camera captures every fleeting joy and tragic turn of the story he challenges us to reconsider our own opinions while at the same time providing no easy answers. The mind set and lingo may be dated at times and the narrative jumps a bit abrupt (perhaps on purpose?), but this contemporary urban tragedy remains powerful and unapologetic 40 years later.


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