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Panic In Needle Park
cast: Al Pacino, Kitty Winn, Alan Vint, and Richard Bright

director: Jerry Schatzberg

105 minutes (18) 1971
ILC Prime DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
New York City, the early 1970s. Bobby (Al Pacino) is a heroin addict. He meets Jenny (Kitty Winn) and they fall in love. But slowly, gradually, Jenny gets dragged into Bobby's world, one of lowlifes, needles, and where everything can be bought or sold for the price of a fix. The part of the city known as Needle Park...
   Panic In Needle Park, written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne from a book by James Mills, was a controversial film in its day. It took an unflinching look at drug addiction, not shying away from its causes and consequences. It was an early lead role for Al Pacino who is very impressive here: reputedly this role earned him the part of Michael Corleone in The Godfather. However, Kitty Winn is just as good, and on this evidence deserves to be better known than as the one you tend to forget is in The Exorcist. (According to the IMDb, she hasn't made a film since 1978 and now acts exclusively on stage.) In fact, Jenny is the leading role, as it's her character journey we follow, her descent into addiction and prostitution to pay for her habit. The narrative is more character-driven than plotted, but it ends with an act of betrayal that could just as well be seen as a final desperate act of love.
   Jerry Schatzberg is hardly a name to conjure with nowadays, being generally dismissed as a modish name as dated as yesterday's fashions, as with films like Puzzle Of A Downfall Child (made the previous year). He does good work here, though: going for a gritty, natural light look. He should also be given credit for the convincing performances, not just those of the two leads but also the supporting cast, which includes Paul Sorvino and Raul Julia. Awful warnings about drug addiction are two a penny now, but this film has more depth and honesty than most, which is why it still holds up.
   In 1971, the BBFC banned Panic outright, passing it three years later with cuts. Previous video releases have been of this cut version (presumably the "instructional" shots of preparing and injecting heroin - Schatzberg spares us nothing). This budget-priced DVD release has had the cuts reinstated, making this the first time this film has been commercially available in its complete form in the UK. It's worth mentioning that the complete version is hard to track down in the US, as the distributors later cut the film to drop its MPAA rating from the original R to a PG, removing the shooting-up scenes and some strong language. In fact the film's language is quite restrained given the subject matter, though it does include an early use of that taboo word which begins with C.
   This DVD has a full-frame (open matte) picture, and the original mono soundtrack. No subtitles. Disc extras: the theatrical trailer and a Hollywood Remembers 26-minute overview of Pacino's career, with plenty of clips but as superficial as it sounds.
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