EW Movie Review: "The Connection"
Updated: 05/04/2012 12:01 AM
By: Owen Gleiberman - Entertainment Weekly
Anyone interested in movies has probably heard of John Cassavetes, the hawk-eyed actor-director who basically invented the American independent film movement back in 1959, when he made "Shadows."
But have you heard of Shirley Clarke? She was a contemporary of Cassavetes who made a splash with her own early independent feature, "The Connection," or would have, at any rate, if the film’s subject matter and language weren’t so explosive for the time that the movie was effectively banned.
Made in 1961, "The Connection" is now finally getting the release it deserves. It’s being shown at the IFC Center in a stunningly restored version that captures Clarke's achievement in all its weird audacity and time-capsule fascination.
The entire film takes place in an oily-walled, bare-bulb junkies’ tenement, where eight men are waiting for their fix. The dialogue, most of it from a celebrated Living Theater stageplay by Jack Gelber, has a late-’50s hepcat snarl.
The characters talk like the delinquents in The Blackboard Jungle with a touch of Lenny Bruce, but the fact that "The Connection" isn’t a remotely realistic-sounding movie doesn’t mean it lacks authenticity. You’re aware, watching these men sit around in their haze of boredom and scraggly friendship and dope hunger, that you’re seeing a certain lower-depths attitude that hadn’t been caught on screen before.
Then, after a while, the connection shows up, the pusher everyone’s been waiting for. He’s known as Cowboy, and Carl Lee plays him with a street philosopher’s jackknife cool that cuts across the decades.
Throughout the movie, Clarke moves her camera with voyeuristic precision. She also stages "The Connection" as a literal documentary in the making, a device that seems rather dated now, though it does startlingly anticipate certain aspects of reality TV.
"The Connection" isn’t a great movie, but 50 years after it was made, it is still a quintessential New York movie. It gets at the inner truth of addicts, that they’re searching for transcendence in the void.
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