The Connection: junkies, jazz and the desperation within

In this 1962 black and white  faux documentary (based on Jack Gelber’s play) experimental filmmaker Shirley Clark tells the story of a vérité documentary filmmaker Jim Dunn (William Redfield) who tries to portray a day in the life of eight junkies who impatiently wait for their drug dealer “Cowboy”(Carl Lee). As the day unfolds, we witness the interaction of these broken souls within a bleak and gloomy apartment somewhere possibly in New York. There is constant mocking of each other, existential monologues, spontaneous breaks into wonderful jam sessions and odd situations that can only turn into some disturbing intoxicated nightmare.While Jim desperately tries to portray something beyond his drug-addicted subjects, the annoyed junkies try to tell him to seek no further, that he can’t really understand the madness. Jim is so unattached with this world of jazz and junk that it’s only after Cowboy the drug dealer arrives, Jim finally gets high himself to realize the mistake of his film. All he needed was some kind of a path to guide him, a substance, a fix, a connection. But the film is not only centered on Jim, it evenly divides out protagonism among every single character in the film. From the jazz musicians to the crawling cockroach on the wall. Not a single detail is ignored. At one point the camera points out a sign on the wall on top of the bathroom (where the junkies go to take their daily fix) that reads: “Hell or Heaven, what road will you take?”. The camera moves constantly around the apartment often swinging off the subjects. It’s shot in stunning black and white with a vérité quality that really makes you wonder how much of the principal photography is actually improvised and how much is actually staged. The same exact thing applies to the acting; the beatnik slang and mumbling makes it a little hard to understand what the actors are saying sometimes even comprehensible. The film ends with and feels like a heroin overdose. A hidden gem of American cinema, “The Connection” won the International Critics Prize at Cannes in 1961, was heavenly censured and criticized for its vulgar language and depiction of drug-use and has been recently restored by UCLA’s film school archives and re-released nation-wide and soon world wide. A really beautiful film and a pleasure to watch.

It’s currently playing in the IFC center in New York.

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