The Panic in Needle Park – Jerry Schatzberg (1971)


The Panic in Needle Park is a 1971 American romantic drama film directed by Jerry Schatzberg and starring Al Pacino and Kitty Winn. The screenplay was written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, adapted from the 1966 novel by James Mills. The film portrays life among a group of heroin addicts who hang out in ‘Needle Park’ (then-nickname for Sherman Square on Manhattan‘s Upper West Side near 72nd Street and Broadway). The film is a love story between Bobby (Pacino), a young addict and small-time hustler, and Helen (Kitty Winn), a restless woman who finds Bobby charismatic. She becomes an addict, and life goes downhill for them both as their addictions worsen, eventually leading to a series of betrayals. In New York City, Helen returns to the apartment she shares with her boyfriend, Marco, after enduring an unhygienic and inept abortion. Helen becomes ill and Bobby, an amiable small-time drug dealer to whom Marco owes money, shows unexpected gentleness and concern for Helen. Helen considers returning to her dysfunctional family, but moves in with Bobby, and when she finds him taking drugs, he explains that he is not an addict, but only uses a little. At Sherman Square, nicknamed Needle Park for the drug addicts who use it as a hangout to get drugs and get high, Bobby introduces Helen to various acquaintances, including his brother Hank, who burgles for a living. Helen witnesses the intricate ritual of addicts shooting up heroin. Bobby and Helen are eventually evicted from their apartment and move into a sleazier one. After Bobby asks her to score heroin for him, Helen and the dealer, Freddie, are arrested by Detective Hotch. … The film was based on a novel by James Mills, which had been based on Mills’s two-part pictorial essay in the 26 February and March 5, 1965 issues of Life magazine. According to a November 1967 Hollywood Reporter news item, film rights for the novel were purchased by Avco Embassy Pictures and, according to a March 1969 Variety news item, the film rights were later bought by producer Dominick Dunne, whose brother and sister-in-law, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion wrote the screenplay. … According to the film’s studio production notes, portions were shot at Needle Park and the Upper West Side area of New York City, at Riverside Park, in a New York City prison and hospital ward, on the Staten Island Ferry, and in the East Village. … Ned Rorem was to compose the film’s score until it was decided that no music would be used (his isolated and unused score is included as a special feature in the Blu-ray). Much of the film features cinéma vérité-style footage. It is believed to be the first mainstream film to feature actual drug injection. …”
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1 Response to The Panic in Needle Park – Jerry Schatzberg (1971)

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