The Connection (1961 film)
|Directed by||Shirley Clarke|
|Produced by||Lewis M. Allen
|Written by||Jack Gelber (based on his play)|
|Music by||Freddie Redd|
|Cinematography||Arthur J. Ornitz|
|Edited by||Shirley Clarke|
|May 1961 (Cannes)
3 October 1962 (NYC)
11 February 2012 (Berlin)
The Connection is a 1961 feature film by the noted American experimental filmmaker Shirley Clarke. The film was Clarke's first feature; she had made several short films over the previous decade. The film was the subject of significant court cases regarding censorship.
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.
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.
Release of restored version
- Lauren Rabinovitz, Points of Resistance: Women, Power & Politics in the New York Avant-Garde Cinema 1943-71 (2nd ed.) University of Illinois Press, 2003
- The Connection Company v. Regents of the University of the State of New York 17 A.D.2d 671 (1962)