At the pace that projection booths are going digital in 2012, beholding a masterfully struck black-and-white 35mm print may soon rank with the first witness of movie projectors making their noisy magic back in 1895. What is appearing on the screen may matter less. Instead of the Lumière Brothers’ arriving trains and leaving workers, in “The Connection” there will be junkies and jazzmen in a Greenwich Village loft—riffing, jiving, jamming, pacing and nodding off as a fictional two-man film crew shoots them. Director Shirley Clarke’s source material was Jack Gelber’s play “The Connection,” first staged by The Living Theatre. Fourth-wall-breaking played to the Brecht-hip crowd, and was not designed to trick straights into thinking there were real junkies on stage or screen, although French filmmaker Georges Franju once ripped the film’s reps for lying to the Locarno Film Festival that it was real. The white film director (William Redfield) and his black cameraman (J. J. Burden) get into the storyline about waiting for a dealer named Cowboy. “The Connection” could have delivered more than a sincere urban sociology of down-and-out users. Cinéma vérité itself is critiqued but the square outsider trying to buy reality from his paid natives is a liberal’s caricature. Audiences are hardly challenged to think through their own complicit alienation. With Warren Finnerty, Jerome Raphael, Garry Goodrow, James Anderson, Carl Lee, Barbara Winchester, Henry Proach. 103m. (Bill Stamets)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.