' ' Cinema Romantico: Panic in Needle Park

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Panic in Needle Park

I have a short list of what I'll term Great Movies I Can't Watch Again. These are, well, movies I can't bring myself to watch again, despite the fact they're so great, because they're too painful. Up until last week the list contained only two films - "Requiem for a Dream" and "The Blair Witch Project". If you've seen "Requiem for a Dream" then you know what I'm talking about and chances are strong you've never watched it more than once, either. If you haven't seen it then I apologize but I simply can't (and may never be able to) find the emotional strength to discuss it. I know some people don't care for "The Blair Witch Project" ("why don't they just put down the camera?" is the constant argument I always hear and which allows for the obvious follow-up "uh, because then you don't have a movie", but I digress) but I think it's brilliant, and I will own up to having it seen three times, and each time has left me with horrific nightmares. The last viewing was 6 years ago and there may never be another one. I'm too old now. My heart can't take it.

In any event, last week added another movie to that list. The 1970 Al Pacino drama "Panic in Needle Park". This was pre-Godfather Pacino, fresh off the New York stage, and was a film I'd long desired to see, except it hadn't been released on DVD. But a visit to Netflix a few weeks back and a perusal of the New Releases section showed me that, miracle of miracles, it was finally being released! And so, I've finally watched it.

This is an addiction film - more to the point, a film about heroin addiction. And while I watched it because of the presence of Pacino, it's not necessarily his film. It belongs to Kitty Winn as Helen, the woman whom Pacino's character of Bobby slowly drags into the very, very de-glamorized world of drugs and, well, a few other things.

Helen meets Bobby right at the start. She is young, innocent - no, innocent isn't right. She's vulnerable. But she's also portrayed as resillient and resourceful. In an early scene Bobby steals a TV and hand it over to her. "How does it feel to steal something?" he asks. He takes her to a junkie's apartment and he shoots up with all the other addicts. She sees this. She could get out. She doesn't. She likes Bobby. She falls in with them.

Where it goes, you may know. You probably do. That makes it no less dramatic or painful. She's a character who seals her own fate and the fact you can see it coming, and then it comes, and then it keeps going, and going some more, makes it excruciating. Yes, there are shots of needless - lots of 'em - and all that but those aren't as gut-wrenching as a shot of Helen, doped up, slumped on a bench.

As I indicated, this is not an easy movie to watch. You might wind up with your hand in front of your face, wanting to scream at Helen to stop doing what she's doing. For God's sake, even the dog that briefly turns up meets a tragic demise. I don't want to watch it again even though it was a little brilliant. Thinking of it makes my toes curl. But then shouldn't an addiction movie be this way? I've never done drugs of any kind, and possess no plans to do so, but if for some reason I wound up in a situation where I was considering it all I'd have to do is say to myself, "Hey, Nick, remember 'Panic in Needle Park'"?

And I'd be out the door and back home, drug-free and happy about it, in no time.


Wretched Genius said...

I've watched "Requiem" dozens of times. Doesn't even phase me.

Anonymous said...

You, sir, are a braver man than I.