The Panic in Needle Park

The Panic in Needle Park ★★★★

Of all the grimy NYC pictures to come out of the 1970s, this is among the grimiest. I obviously have no way of knowing how authentic this all was, but the desperation and the selfishness and the filth all feel true to what I know of hardcore addiction. 

Schatzberg packs the interiors with squalid specifics (for exteriors, midtown Manhattan was pretty much camera-ready). A former photographer, he gets how images work in motion, capturing much of the street life in long shots and, at key moments, conveying a sense of longing with tight closeups. The editing when Bobby visits Santos is riveting, and Schatzberg isn’t afraid to zoom in so close that he briefly loses focus. 

Pacino does excellent, detailed work, of course. The revelation is Kitty Winn, who, for whatever reason, barely had a career after this. I can see co-writer Didion’s influence on her character; Helen is modern (still), observant, bold, and overwhelmed. Of the two leads, she has the richer arc, and Winn seems to capture every nuance, from fragile to conniving.

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