Friday, July 2, 2010

The Panic in Needle Park

The most obvious reason to view The Panic in Needle Park is because it is Al Pacino's first movie. This is before he lit up the screen in 'The Godfather' and 'Serpico'. His ability to capture your attention is evident from the start of his now lengthy career. This film tells the story of Bobby and Helen. They are two young people who become heroin addicts in New York City. The film is gritty and raw, but not as disturbing as Sid and Nancy. There have been many films about drug use and abuse. This is a compelling one.

Pacino plays Bobby, a small-time hustler who steals and deals his way through life. He boasts to Helen about spending time in 8 different jails. Kitty Winn portrays Helen. Helen has split from her relationship with Marco (played by a very young Raul Julia). From the start Bobby finds her most interesting. They become a couple that dabbles in drugs. As the story moves forward Helen becomes deeply addicted to heroin. They both attempt to move beyond the despair of drug abuse, but, somehow, can never seem to escape. Crime, drug dealing and prostitution become part of their daily lives.

The script was written by some literary heavyweights. The Panic in Needle Park script was co-authored by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne and is based upon the James Mills novel. The film provides what appears to be an accurate view of the life of heroin addicts in Needle Park. It is a life of danger and despair, but Bobby and Helen's feelings for each other cast light upon their dark world. Director Jerry Schatzberg pulls no punches in showing us the underbelly of the drug culture.

Look for appearances by actors who would later gain some fame and notoriety. Raul Julia, Joe Santos (Hill Street Blues), Kiel Martin and Paul Sorvino are all in this movie. Just pay close attention because they go by quickly. I am not sure why Kitty Winn never became a bigger star. She is fantastic in this film and shows the ability to connect with audiences. She later played 'Sharon' in 'The Exorcist'. I wonder why she left acting and what she is up to today.

This is a difficult film to watch because of the life choices made by the characters. But, in some way, their care for each other provides a positive message among all the negatives.

Trivia: Kitty Winn is the granddaughter of General George C. Marshall. Marshall was the U.S. Chief of Staff during World War Two and went on to lead the 'Marshall Plan'. This plan provided the funds for Europe and Japan to rebuild after the War.

Filmed in 1971, directed by Jerry Schatzberg, written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, starring Al Pacino and Kitty Winn.

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