Family & Companions
New York native Jerry Schatzberg began his career as a fashion photographer, working as an assistant to Bill Helburn in the mid-1950s before branching out on his own in the late 50s and 60s. While working freelance, he also began to helm TV commercials and gradually moved to the silver screen, debuting with 1970's "Puzzle of a Downfall Child." A confusing drama about a fashion model trying to come to terms with her life, "Puzzle" starred Faye Dunaway, with whom Schatzberg had been romantically linked. Critics were dismissive of the film and its confounding structure, but the director hit pay dirt with his sophomore effort, the gripping "Panic in Needle Park" (1971). Focusing on the downward spiral into drugs of a petty crook (Al Pacino) and his girlfriend (Kitty Winn), "Panic in Needle Park" received plaudits for its unsparing look at the effects of drug use (in this case heroin) and for its dynamic leading performances. (Winn received the Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award.)
Schatzberg next enjoyed success with the well-received road picture "Scarecrow" which took top honors at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. Despite rumored clashes between its stars Gene Hackman and Al Pacino, there was no denying the duo's chemistry as a pair of drifters who set out from California to Pittsburgh. "Scarecrow" looked gorgeous (thanks in part to Schatzberg's photographic background and the expert cinematography of Vilmos Zsigmond) and the performances (including those of Ann Wedgeworth, Eileen Brennan and Penelope Allen) demonstrated Schatzberg's skill with actors, but the episodic script and its maudlin ending undercut what could have been a great motion picture.
The director's career was nearly derailed completely by "Sweet Revenge" (1977), a lame romance about a public defender (Sam Waterston) who falls in love with a client (Stockard Channing). Schatzberg was back on track with 1979's politically-themed "The Seduction of Joe Tynan," a portrait of a liberal senator facing moral crises in his rise to power in Washington. Again, the helmer showed a flair for eliciting strong, well-crafted performances from his cast (including writer-star Alan Alda, Barbara Harris, Meryl Streep and Melvyn Douglas), but as with "Scarecrow," the inherent troubles of the screenplay (especially its trite and unbelievable ending) marred the final product.
"On the Road Again/Honeysuckle Rose" (1980) was a loose remake of "Intermezzo" (1939) set in the world of country music and starring Willie Nelson that proved surprisingly enjoyable. When Martin Ritt became too ill to direct it, "No Small Affair" was abandoned until Schatzberg agreed to helm it for a 1984 release. He recast the roles of an older singer and the virginal teen who develops a crush on her with Demi Moore and Jon Cryer (in parts originally intended for Sally Field and Matthew Broderick) but the final version proved uneven at best. "Street Smart" (1987) was a more intriguing project. Based somewhat on screenwriter David Freeman's own experiences, the film depicted a lazy, amoral journalist (Christopher Reeve) who concocts a fictional portrait of a pimp that bears a strong resemblance to a vicious, real-life procurer who is a suspect in a murder case. Marred by the miscasting of Reeve (who plays the role too passively) and Schatzberg's slick direction, "Street Smart" was redeemed by the strong supporting turns of Morgan Freeman as the pimp and Kathy Baker as a prostitute with whom Reeve's character begins a relationship.
Schatzberg next directed the erotically-charged lovers-on-the-run drama "Clinton and Nadine" (1988), which teamed Andy Garcia and Ellen Barkin as a smuggler and a prostitute who become embroiled in a gun-running scheme. Intended as a feature film (having debuted at Cannes), it instead debuted on HBO before being consigned to the video shelves. Schatzberg then helmed what is arguably his best feature, "Reunion" (1989), a Harold Pinter-scripted drama about an elderly Jewish man who returns to Germany to relocate a childhood friend. With the exception of a short segment contributed to the omnibus feature "Lumiere and Company" (1995), he did not direct for movies for more than a decade. At the 2000 Montreal Film Festival, he debuted "The Day the Ponies Come Back," which he also co-wrote. In the Variety (September 10, 2000), critic Derek Elley praised the "fluidly told story" about a young Frenchman's search for his father, cited its "believable, well-etched personalities" and noted it was "helmed with a freshness and inquisitiveness that belies the age of its director."
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Worked as assistant to photographer Bill Helburn
Directorial debut with "Puzzle of a Downfall Child"; also provided story
Enjoyed critical success with "Panic in Needle Park", a searing study of drug addiction starring Al Pacino and Kitty Winn
Reteamed with Pacino for "Scarecrow", a road movie co-starring Gene Hackman that won the Palm d'Or at Cannes
Had minor career setback with the dreadful "Sweet Revenge"
Again enjoyed critical praise for the political drama "The Seduction of Joe Tynan", written by and starring Alan Alda
Helmed "Honeysuckle Rose", a loose remake of "Intermezzo" set in the world of country music and starring Willie Nelson
Had exhibition of photographs at Beaubourg Center in Paris
Replaced an ill Martin Ritt as director of "No Small Affair", a love story about an older woman and younger man featuring Demi Moore and Jon Cryer (in roles originally intended for Sally Field and Matthew Broderick)
Directed the intriguing if not wholly successful "Street Smart", about a journalist who fakes a story about NYC pimps and prostitutes only to have the district attorney conclude it profiled a murder suspect
Helmed the lovers on the run drama "Clinton and Nadine"; premiered at Cannes; shown on HBO in the USA
Directed the touching drama "Reunion" (scripted by Harold Pinter), about an elderly Jewish man who returns to Germany to locate a childhood friend; last feature film for 11 years
Contributed a segment to "Lumiere and Company" about a Manhattan bag lady and a trash collector
Returned to feature filmmaking as co-writer and director of "The Day the Ponies Come Back"; premiered at the Montreal Film Festival