The Connection (1961) (NR)

Drama 103 December 31, 1969
By Karina Longworth
Winner of the International Critics Prize at Cannes in 1961, where it was heralded by Variety as prime evidence that "America can make its own art films," Shirley Clarke's The Connection is a faux document of a day in the life of a group of heroin addicts holed up in a one-room New York City squat, biding time until Cowboy (Carl Lee) comes back with the day's score of "shit." All the while, a wannabe vérité director named Jim Dunn (William Redfield) is filming their every move. Black-and-white, shot on a single set, with its handheld camera whips giving the illusion that we're watching a nonstop, real-time drama, Clarke's footage is presented as a film directed and then abandoned by Dunn, a pasty super-square who coaches his subjects to "act natural." "The minute I put a camera on you," Dunn complains to the assembled gang of jazz musicians, junkies, and racially diverse burnouts, "you change!" When the drugs arrive, Dunn is coaxed into joining the natives; once high, he realizes the folly of his film. The Connection was barely seen in its time, the victim of a censorship battle that interrupted its original release and some terrible reviews. In The New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote that the film's "main fault" was being "deadly monotonous, in addition to being sordid and disagreeable." This inspired the Village Voice's Jonas Mekas to pen an apoplectic "Open Letter to the New York Daily Movie Critics": "You have completely misled the American audiences with your bloody columns," he wrote. "You are deaf, blind, and dumb." Beautifully restored from the original negative last year by UCLA Film and Television Archive's Ross Lipman, Clarke's film is now finally getting a proper theatrical release.
Shirley Clarke Warren Finnerty, Jerome Raphael, Garry Goodrow, Jim Anderson, Carl Lee, Barbara Winchester, Henry Proach, Roscoe Lee Browne, William Redfield, Freddie Redd Jack Gelber