Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Connection

The Connection. Poster from Daily Mail online. Separate Cinema celebrates history of black cinema. From the collections of John Duke Kisch, 2014.

US © 1961 The Connection Company. P: Lewis M. Allen, Shirley Clarke. D: Shirley Clarke. SC: Jack Gelber based on his play (1959). CIN: Arthur J. Ornitz – shot on 35 mm – b&w – 1,37:1. ED: Shirley Clarke. PD: Richard Sylbert. AD: Albert Brenner. Cost: Ruth Morley. M: Freddie Redd. S: mono (RCA).
    C: Warren Finnerty (Leach), Jerome Raphael (Solly), Garry Goodrow (Ernie), Jim Anderson (Sam), Carl Lee (Brother Cowboy), Barbara Winchester (Sister Salvation), Henry Proach (Harry), offscreen voice of Roscoe Lee Browne (J. J. Burden, the unseen cameraman), William Redfield (Jim Dunn).
    The jazz band: Freddie Redd (composer, piano),
Jackie McLean (alto sax),
Michael Mattos (bass),
Larry Richie (drums).
     The Music from The Connection (album to the play released in 1960):
"Who Killed Cock Robin" - 5:21
"Wigglin'" - 5:58
"Music Forever" - 5:52
"Time To Smile" - 6:24
"(Theme for) Sister Salvation" - 4:43
"Jim Dunn's Dilemma" - 5:37
"O.D. (Overdose)" - 4:41
    K16 – 102 min
    A 35 mm print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (History of the Cinema), 15 March 2017.

Shirley Clarke's debut feature film has an affinity with Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Based on a play by Jack Gelber for The Living Theatre it is about a film-maker, Jim Dunn, filming a group of junkies, including a jazz band, who are waiting for their "connection" to bring them their heroin shots.

The Connection belongs to the key works of the New American Cinema, direct cinema, and the American New Wave. It was shot in long takes, often with a handheld camera, lens changes conducted without stopping the camera. But it had a top cinematographer, Arthur J. Ornitz (The Goddess, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Minnie & Moskowitz, Serpico, Next Stop Greenwich Village) and production designer, Richard Sylbert (Splendor in the Grass, A Long Day's Journey Into Night, and The Manchurian Candidate were some of his credits during the next year). Technically, the well lit film is a mix of direct cinema and studio professionalism.

A strength of the movie is a hard bop score played live by a jazz quartet with the composer-pianist Freddie Redd as band leader, and featuring searing solos by the alto sax player Jackie McLean. The Connection was one of the important films of its time in featuring black talent without sugar-coating.

The Connection broke taboos in exposing frankly practices of heroin use. We witness the cold turkey, the desperation of addiction, the gratification, and the impact of overdose, even an almost lethal overdose. The film director Jim Dunn has a dubious role in cultivating the addiction of the people he wants to film, but he gets to taste his own medicine with dangerous results as he has never essayed heroin before.

The Connection is also one of the most famous films that played a role in changing the standards of regional censorship practices in the 1960s. First it was locally banned, then released in the court of appeals.

Among the memorable images are the sweat-covered faces of the heroin addicts. The Connection is a film about freedom, desperation, and the bondage of addiction.

The print is clean, spotless, and complete, and looks like struck directly from the original negative displaying the soft, vibrant skin of living reality typical of a brilliant print. Only the last reel has a duped look.


Kokeellisen ja riippumattoman elokuvan mestari Shirley Clarke (1919–1997), oli syntyisin New Yorkissa puolalaissiirtolaisen perheeseen. Isä rikastui tehtailijana, äidin juutalaisella suvulla oli myös miljoonaomaisuuksia. Lapsuudessa Clarke kiinnostui tanssista ja päätyi modernin tanssin esittäjäksi huolimatta siitä, että isä vastusti tämän kaltaisia urahankkeita. Clarken laaja-alainen koulutus yliopistoissa toi hänelle jatkuvasti puhetilaisuuksia teattereissa ja museoissa.

Ensimmäinen pitkä elokuva perustui Jack Gelberin näytelmään The Connection. Syntynyt saman-niminen elokuva, joka kertoi heroiiniaddiktoituneista jazzmuusikoista, oli lähtölaukaus New Yorkin riippumattomalle elokuvaliikkeelle. Siinä luotiin perusta uudelle tyylille, joka painotti elokuvallista realismia ja joka toi esiin säännönmukaisesti ajankohtaiset ja tärkeät yhteiskunnalliset asiat. Elokuvien formaatti oli vaatimaton, budjetti pieni ja filmi mustavalkoista.

The Connection oli tehty varta vasten testaamaan muuten liberaalina pidetyn New Yorkin sietokykyä elokuvalliseen ilmaisuun: osavaltiossa oli voimassa oma sensuurijärjestelmänsä. Elokuvateorian näkökulmasta The Connection tarttui cinema veritén (tai amerikkalaisittain direct cineman) epäonnistumisiin. Elokuvana The Connection näyttäytyy kuin se haluaisi olla spontaanissa yhteydessä sen valmistumishetken erityisiin elämäntyyleihin, joka tarkoittaa 1960-luvun alun New Yorkin boheemia elämänmallia. Todellisuudessa käsikirjoitus oli huomattavan tarkka ja yksityiskohtainen.

Sensuuri lopulta hyväksyi aluksi The Connection -elokuvan, mutta perui hyväksyntänsä myöhemmin. Clarken myöhempiä teoksia ei voinut New Yorkissa esittää. Siksi Clarken saama mediahuomio on keskittynyt tähän teokseen, joka sai Cannesin elokuvajuhlilla vuonna 1961 hyvän vastaanoton.

– Jari Sedergren 15.3.2017


A title card announces that the film is a result of found footage assembled by cameraman J. J. Burden working for the acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Jim Dunn, who has disappeared.

Leach, a heroin addict, introduces the audience to his apartment where other heroin addicts, a mix of current and former jazz musicians, are waiting for their drug connection, Cowboy, to appear. As the men grow increasingly nervous, waiting for their fix, some of them start to break the fourth wall and address the camera. Though director Jim Dunn asks his camera operator J. J. to turn off the camera, J. J. films him coaching the junkies to "act natural" and revealing where the microphones and lights are hidden in the apartment. Furthermore, Jim reveals that he is the one who has given the addicts the money for their heroin in exchange for being able to film them.

Jim, who is nervous around the junkies, confesses a private hope that he will be able to film the connection behind the connection. The junkies shoot down this idea and suggest it would be more interesting to watch Jim take heroin. J. J. suggests that Jim start with marijuana which Leach finds amusing and does not even have.

Cowboy finally arrives, bringing with him an older woman called Sister Salvation who has no idea what they are up to. The men shoot up one by one in the bathroom.

Under pressure from the other men, who claim Jim is exploiting them, Jim agrees to try heroin. He almost immediately becomes ill from the effects, which are much stronger on him than on the others. Despite this Jim continues to film the others encouraging them to act more cinematic and telling Cowboy he once thought of making him the "hero" of his film.

Despite the fact that Cowboy injected Leach with heroin Leach claims to not be high. Annoyed, Cowboy gives Leach the heroin and allows him to shoot up himself which he does, in full view of J. J. However this final shot proves too much for Leach and Leach overdoses, though Cowboy manages to revive him Leach continues to have a bad trip.

The men who are left wait for their next connection to show up. Meanwhile, Jim turns to J. J. and tells him that the film belongs to him and goes to join the other addicts in waiting.


Based on the play The Connection by Jack Gelber, the film follows a young filmmaker who attempts to film junkies waiting for their heroin dealer to arrive.

Most of the actors from the original stage production reprised their roles for the film: Warren Finnerty as Leach, Carl Lee as Cowboy, Garry Goodrow as Ernie, Jerome Raphel as Solly, Barbra Winchester as Sister Salvation, and Henry Proach as Harry. All the musicians from the original stage production appeared: Freddie Redd (composer, piano), Jackie McLean (alto sax), Michael Mattos (bass), and Larry Ritchie (drums). Non-original cast members James Anderson and William Redfield took the roles of Sam and Jim Dunn. The character of Jaybird was cut from the film, that role essentially shifted to an off-screen camera operator, J. J. Burden, voiced by Roscoe Lee Brown.

The film is significant in the history of film censorship, as Clarke and producer Lewis Allen had filed suit to be able to show the film in New York. (The film had already premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1961.) In that era, in New York, the State's Department of Education had a vote on the State's film licensing board, and they voted to deny a license, mainly on the grounds that the word "shit" was used repeatedly during the film, even though it was mostly used to refer to drugs.

The case went all the way to the New York State Court of Appeals (the state's highest court). The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the intermediate level Appellate Division, which had held that while 'vulgar', this usage could not be considered obscene. Ultimately, the film was not a success at the box office.

No comments: