The Connection


1h 43m 1962
The Connection

Brief Synopsis

A film director pays addicts to let him film them as they wait for their dealer.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
Scottsdale, Arizona, opening: 15 Feb 1962
Production Company
Allen-Hodgdon Productions; The Connection Co.
Distribution Company
Film-Makers' Distribution Center; Films Around the World, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the play The Connection by Jack Gelber (New York, 15 Jul 1959).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 43m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White, Color

Synopsis

Eight drug addicts are gathered in a Manhattan loft apartment belonging to Leach. In order to pay their "connection" when he arrives with heroin, the men have agreed for a fee to allow Jim Dunn, a would-be documentary filmmaker, and his cameraman, J. J. Burden, to photograph them. While they are waiting for their "fix," four of the men play jazz; the others somewhat self-consciously relate anecdotes about themselves and their backgrounds. Eventually the "connection," a black named Cowboy, arrives. He is accompanied by a street salvationist; he has brought her along to distract the police. As the addicts file into the bathroom one by one for their shots, the bewildered old woman begins to suspect that they are drinking. She so accuses them and is politely but firmly ushered from the loft. The men then persuade Dunn to try some heroin so that he will have a deeper understanding of the subject of his film. After taking the drug, he becomes violently ill and tells J. J. to take over. While Dunn is sleeping, Leach gives himself an overdose of heroin and goes into a coma. After Cowboy has given physical aid, Dunn awakens. Realizing his experiment is a failure, he tells J. J. to keep the footage.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
Scottsdale, Arizona, opening: 15 Feb 1962
Production Company
Allen-Hodgdon Productions; The Connection Co.
Distribution Company
Film-Makers' Distribution Center; Films Around the World, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the play The Connection by Jack Gelber (New York, 15 Jul 1959).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 43m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White, Color

Articles

The Connection -


One of the key indie filmmakers of the New York scene in the 1960s, Shirley Clarke remains a unique artist in any realm with her transition from choreographer and skilled dancer to documentarian to narrative filmmaker. Her first fictional feature film, The Connection was released to considerable controversy in 1962 and played a pivotal role in breaking down censorship barriers in her home state. Today it may be difficult to see what all the fuss was about, but the film itself remains a compelling snapshot of a subculture that remains with us today, albeit in a different form.

Based very closely on a play by Jack Gelber, the film chronicles a day in the lives of Big Apple junkies waiting for their dealer, Cowboy (Carl Lee), to deliver the goods. An aspiring young documentarian, Jim Dunn (William Redfield), aims to capture their "natural" behavior in all its squalid realism, but the presence of the camera itself has an unavoidable effect on the subjects - with Jim himself and his cameraman soon getting closer to his subject than they ever planned.

Gelber's play, which was originally presented by the Living Theater in 1959, was a natural choice for Clarke, who had co-founded the documentary collective Filmmakers with D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles, and Richard Leacock, with her other friends at the time including such names as Maya Deren, Roger Corman, and John Cassavetes. Rumors persisted that the play (which featured no filmmaker character) containing actual drug use in its second half (following an intermission with the actors staying in character and begging for change from the audience), so the decision to work cinéma vérité into the film adaptation was an extension of that concept.

Clarke acquired the rights to the play in February of 1960 from Gelber, who was 27 years old at the time and told The New York Times, "I was practically brought up on movies and circuses in Chicago, where I was born. I've seen every movie I could ever since I was 5. I love them. And when Mrs. Clarke came to me with her offer--the money isn't stupendous--which gave me a great deal of artistic control when we write the script, I jumped at the chance. The point is, we're both willing to gamble on it, and that makes it a wonderful challenge."

The asides to the audience in the play were transformed by Clarke and Gelber into statements to the camera, with the seemingly improvisatory style actually very controlled with only minor leeway granted for inflection. The film was shot for three weeks on a budget of approximately $150,000 on one-sixth of a sound stage at New York's Production Center, with several members of the press stopping by including Howard Thompson from The New York Times. "I watched this play fascinated and it struck me that a camera could come in on these guys--these dope addicts--and you'd believe them," she told the journalist. "This is hard, tough work. The picture costs twice what I'd expected because it's union-made... Yet all this is such fun, a real challenge--like a marvelous game you want to win."

Indeed, Clarke and company seemed to have triumphed when the film took home the Critics' Prize at Cannes, but stormier seas lay ahead. The film was denied a New York license to be shown in the state because of the repeated use of the word "shit" as a slang term for heroin, but it was booked anyway at Times Square's D.W. Griffith art theater in late September of 1962. The state shut down the release, which led to a decision by the Court of Appeals in Albany on November 6 that the film's release could continue as "at most, the use of the word may be classified as vulgar, but it is not obscene."

However, the marketing and legal costs had taken their toll, and the film was unable to recoup its budget. The rest of the country was poised for attack as well, with local Los Angeles editorialist Hazel Flynn railing against it in the Citizens News when the film opened at the Cinema Theater: "The constitutional rights always are those of the filmmakers, not the viewers. There may be millions of people who don't want to see filth or want their children to have the opportunity of seeing it, but they are helpless... I consider The Connection the most vulgar and disgusting celluloid work ever turned out, and just having to detail its contents makes me want to vomit." She concluded her tirade by encouraging a public pledge: "I will not vote in any coming election for people in this state or our local government who stand by and allow such films as this to be exhibited. The Connection brings shame to Los Angeles and to the United States. It marks the outright abuse of freedom."

Of course, history turned out to be firmly on the side of the film and its director. Already an Oscar nominee for her 1960 short subject Skyscraper, Clarke went on to direct the Academy Award winner for Documentary Feature for 1963, Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World, and she continued to explore the world of the disenfranchised with two more groundbreaking films, The Cool World (1963) and Portrait of Jason (1967), all of which now stand as milestones in American cinema. The historical value of The Connection was solidified when it was selected for a full restoration by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in 2012 with its first genuine theatrical release quickly following. The film also retains value for its rare jazz performance footage of Jackie McLean and Freddie Redd, regulars on the Blue Note jazz label, and the fact that it featured the debut screen performance by the great Roscoe Lee Browne (as J.J.), whose distinctive voice ensured a long and prestigious career in film, television and the theater until his death in 2007. Clarke would pass away earlier in 1997, but her entire body of work has since been drastically reappraised with home video releases under Milestone's "Project Shirley" banner introducing a far wider audience to her work. Perhaps her most famous quote came in the 1970s when she said, "It was years before it dawned on me that if I had been a man, I would have been Stanley Kubrick," but in hindsight we're fortunate for the films she did create, which could have come from no one else.

By Nathaniel Thompson
The Connection -

The Connection -

One of the key indie filmmakers of the New York scene in the 1960s, Shirley Clarke remains a unique artist in any realm with her transition from choreographer and skilled dancer to documentarian to narrative filmmaker. Her first fictional feature film, The Connection was released to considerable controversy in 1962 and played a pivotal role in breaking down censorship barriers in her home state. Today it may be difficult to see what all the fuss was about, but the film itself remains a compelling snapshot of a subculture that remains with us today, albeit in a different form. Based very closely on a play by Jack Gelber, the film chronicles a day in the lives of Big Apple junkies waiting for their dealer, Cowboy (Carl Lee), to deliver the goods. An aspiring young documentarian, Jim Dunn (William Redfield), aims to capture their "natural" behavior in all its squalid realism, but the presence of the camera itself has an unavoidable effect on the subjects - with Jim himself and his cameraman soon getting closer to his subject than they ever planned. Gelber's play, which was originally presented by the Living Theater in 1959, was a natural choice for Clarke, who had co-founded the documentary collective Filmmakers with D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles, and Richard Leacock, with her other friends at the time including such names as Maya Deren, Roger Corman, and John Cassavetes. Rumors persisted that the play (which featured no filmmaker character) containing actual drug use in its second half (following an intermission with the actors staying in character and begging for change from the audience), so the decision to work cinéma vérité into the film adaptation was an extension of that concept. Clarke acquired the rights to the play in February of 1960 from Gelber, who was 27 years old at the time and told The New York Times, "I was practically brought up on movies and circuses in Chicago, where I was born. I've seen every movie I could ever since I was 5. I love them. And when Mrs. Clarke came to me with her offer--the money isn't stupendous--which gave me a great deal of artistic control when we write the script, I jumped at the chance. The point is, we're both willing to gamble on it, and that makes it a wonderful challenge." The asides to the audience in the play were transformed by Clarke and Gelber into statements to the camera, with the seemingly improvisatory style actually very controlled with only minor leeway granted for inflection. The film was shot for three weeks on a budget of approximately $150,000 on one-sixth of a sound stage at New York's Production Center, with several members of the press stopping by including Howard Thompson from The New York Times. "I watched this play fascinated and it struck me that a camera could come in on these guys--these dope addicts--and you'd believe them," she told the journalist. "This is hard, tough work. The picture costs twice what I'd expected because it's union-made... Yet all this is such fun, a real challenge--like a marvelous game you want to win." Indeed, Clarke and company seemed to have triumphed when the film took home the Critics' Prize at Cannes, but stormier seas lay ahead. The film was denied a New York license to be shown in the state because of the repeated use of the word "shit" as a slang term for heroin, but it was booked anyway at Times Square's D.W. Griffith art theater in late September of 1962. The state shut down the release, which led to a decision by the Court of Appeals in Albany on November 6 that the film's release could continue as "at most, the use of the word may be classified as vulgar, but it is not obscene." However, the marketing and legal costs had taken their toll, and the film was unable to recoup its budget. The rest of the country was poised for attack as well, with local Los Angeles editorialist Hazel Flynn railing against it in the Citizens News when the film opened at the Cinema Theater: "The constitutional rights always are those of the filmmakers, not the viewers. There may be millions of people who don't want to see filth or want their children to have the opportunity of seeing it, but they are helpless... I consider The Connection the most vulgar and disgusting celluloid work ever turned out, and just having to detail its contents makes me want to vomit." She concluded her tirade by encouraging a public pledge: "I will not vote in any coming election for people in this state or our local government who stand by and allow such films as this to be exhibited. The Connection brings shame to Los Angeles and to the United States. It marks the outright abuse of freedom." Of course, history turned out to be firmly on the side of the film and its director. Already an Oscar nominee for her 1960 short subject Skyscraper, Clarke went on to direct the Academy Award winner for Documentary Feature for 1963, Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World, and she continued to explore the world of the disenfranchised with two more groundbreaking films, The Cool World (1963) and Portrait of Jason (1967), all of which now stand as milestones in American cinema. The historical value of The Connection was solidified when it was selected for a full restoration by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in 2012 with its first genuine theatrical release quickly following. The film also retains value for its rare jazz performance footage of Jackie McLean and Freddie Redd, regulars on the Blue Note jazz label, and the fact that it featured the debut screen performance by the great Roscoe Lee Browne (as J.J.), whose distinctive voice ensured a long and prestigious career in film, television and the theater until his death in 2007. Clarke would pass away earlier in 1997, but her entire body of work has since been drastically reappraised with home video releases under Milestone's "Project Shirley" banner introducing a far wider audience to her work. Perhaps her most famous quote came in the 1970s when she said, "It was years before it dawned on me that if I had been a man, I would have been Stanley Kubrick," but in hindsight we're fortunate for the films she did create, which could have come from no one else. By Nathaniel Thompson

The Connection (1962)


When her dance career failed to pan out, Shirley Clarke turned to experimental cinema as a means to depict modern dance on film. Her subsequent short subjects, which rejected Hollywood convention for the sake of avant-garde honesty, won critical acclaim and even Oscar attention, when Clarke's Skyscraper (1960) was nominated for Best Short Subject-Live Action. A key figure in the American independent filmmaking movement, and a colleague of Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage and Jonas Mekas, Clarke chose for her feature-length debut the Jack Gelber stage play The Connection, a controversial success for Julian Beck and Judith Malina's Living Theatre in the fall of 1959. As Gelber's play had polarized the critics with its raw depiction of the lives of heroin addicts, so Clarke intended for her film to challenge archaic New York obscenity laws. After winning a critic's prize at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival, Clarke and producer Lewis Allen were stymied in their bid to have The Connection (1962) exhibited in New York; when they showed the film without a license, the cinema was raided by the police and the film reels confiscated. After a protracted series of court rulings, Clarke and Allen succeeded in overturning the obscenity charge and The Connection remains over fifty years later a keynote in the American independent film movement. Clarke's next project, Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the Real World (1963), won the 1964 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

By Richard Harland Smith

The Connection (1962)

When her dance career failed to pan out, Shirley Clarke turned to experimental cinema as a means to depict modern dance on film. Her subsequent short subjects, which rejected Hollywood convention for the sake of avant-garde honesty, won critical acclaim and even Oscar attention, when Clarke's Skyscraper (1960) was nominated for Best Short Subject-Live Action. A key figure in the American independent filmmaking movement, and a colleague of Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage and Jonas Mekas, Clarke chose for her feature-length debut the Jack Gelber stage play The Connection, a controversial success for Julian Beck and Judith Malina's Living Theatre in the fall of 1959. As Gelber's play had polarized the critics with its raw depiction of the lives of heroin addicts, so Clarke intended for her film to challenge archaic New York obscenity laws. After winning a critic's prize at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival, Clarke and producer Lewis Allen were stymied in their bid to have The Connection (1962) exhibited in New York; when they showed the film without a license, the cinema was raided by the police and the film reels confiscated. After a protracted series of court rulings, Clarke and Allen succeeded in overturning the obscenity charge and The Connection remains over fifty years later a keynote in the American independent film movement. Clarke's next project, Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the Real World (1963), won the 1964 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. By Richard Harland Smith

Milestone Announces Theatrical Premiere of Shirley Clarke's Restored Masterpiece The Connection


On October 3, 1962, Shirley Clarke's debut feature, THE CONNECTION opened -- and closed -- at the D.W. Griffith Theatre in New York City. After just two matinees, the screenings were halted, the theater closed and the projectionist arrested.

For almost a year, the producers of the film had been battling a ruling by the New York State Board of Regents that declared THE CONNECTION to be obscene. Even after a court decision supporting the film's right to be shown, the Board had refused to grant it a license to open. So THE CONNECTION's premiere was a direct challenge to the ban and to state censorship of films.

It was an audacious move, but it came at a price. By the time the NY State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the film in November, the mainstream critics had already weighed in -- and against -- THE CONNECTION's bold language and storyline. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wrote that the film offered "a forthright and repulsive observation of a sleazy, snarling group of narcotic addicts." The following week, Jonas Mekas responded in the Village Voice that his fellow critics were "deaf, blind and dumb" -- but audience momentum had waned and THE CONNECTION never recovered from that initial onslaught.

Fifty years later, Milestone is proud to present the theatrical release of a luminous new 35mm restoration of THE CONNECTION. Clarke's powerful and multi-layered film premieres Friday May 4 at New York City'sIFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas at West 3rd Street, ifccenter.com, box office: 212 924-7771

Set to the propulsive music of jazz greats Freddie Redd and Jackie McLean (who appear in the film), THE CONNECTION is one of the most vital and fascinating of all American independent films. Created by a woman director working outside the Hollywood tradition, the film fearlessly shattered stereotypes and even questioned the filmmaking process itself. Yet for many years, it was virtually unseen.

A dynamic member of the postwar independent film movement, Clarke was one of the first filmmakers -- and the only woman -- to sign the New American Cinema manifesto in 1961. For her debut feature, she decided to take on a controversial off-Broadway play by Jack Gelber. "The Connection" was a complicated and challenging theater piece -- a play within a play, within a jazz session. It featured a group of heroin addicts (some of them musicians) waiting around in a grungy New York loft for their drug connection to arrive. Meanwhile, a theatrical producer and writer intent on putting on an "authentic" play, are hanging out with and studying the strung-out junkies. Throughout the play, brilliant Beat dialogue alternated with cool jazz.

Clarke changed the character of the playwright into a preppy young filmmaker out to make a name for himself by documenting the "scene." Clarke, who was friends with many of the new cinéma vérité documentarians, added a level of humor by satirizing the earnestness and professed purity of that genre. Keeping the play's one-set location (re-created in grungy and brilliant detail by future five-time Oscar®-nominated art director Albert Brenner), Clarke set her camera free to swirl, swoop and move to the rhythms of the film's cool jazz score. When it premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1961, the edgy, exciting and kinetic film was acclaimed a masterpiece.

Although Clarke had fully embraced the avant-garde nature of Gelber's play, she was unprepared for the furor her film version would raise. In Hollywood films, addicts were usually "good men gone bad" or crazed "dope fiends." In contrast, the junkies in THE CONNECTION are vulgar, funny, erudite, talented and unapologetic. They speak about heroin with enthusiasm, and refer to it as "shit." And it was this four-letter word that helped put the film on the censors' radar.

Cinephiles encountering UCLA Film & Television Archive's sparkling restoration will be astonished by the image and sound quality. Arthur Ornitz's black-and-white cinematography lushly glows and the great jazz of pianist Redd and saxophone legend McLean grooves, making THE CONNECTION's rediscovery one of the cinema events of the year!

THE CONNECTION is the first release in Milestone's ambitious four-years-in-the-making PROJECT SHIRLEY -- to acquire and bring out the films of Shirley Clarke. Although there are more than 100 monographs, books and DVDs devoted to the works of contemporaries like John Cassavetes, Stan Brakhage and Andy Warhol; there is not one entirely dedicated to the life or works of Clarke. Milestone has acquired the rights to four of Clarke's features and more than a dozen of her short films and will be working with the archives to bring out restored versions over the course of the next year. Next on the list, ORNETTE: MADE IN AMERICA, will be premiering this August at the IFC Center.

Milestone Announces Theatrical Premiere of Shirley Clarke's Restored Masterpiece The Connection

On October 3, 1962, Shirley Clarke's debut feature, THE CONNECTION opened -- and closed -- at the D.W. Griffith Theatre in New York City. After just two matinees, the screenings were halted, the theater closed and the projectionist arrested. For almost a year, the producers of the film had been battling a ruling by the New York State Board of Regents that declared THE CONNECTION to be obscene. Even after a court decision supporting the film's right to be shown, the Board had refused to grant it a license to open. So THE CONNECTION's premiere was a direct challenge to the ban and to state censorship of films. It was an audacious move, but it came at a price. By the time the NY State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the film in November, the mainstream critics had already weighed in -- and against -- THE CONNECTION's bold language and storyline. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wrote that the film offered "a forthright and repulsive observation of a sleazy, snarling group of narcotic addicts." The following week, Jonas Mekas responded in the Village Voice that his fellow critics were "deaf, blind and dumb" -- but audience momentum had waned and THE CONNECTION never recovered from that initial onslaught. Fifty years later, Milestone is proud to present the theatrical release of a luminous new 35mm restoration of THE CONNECTION. Clarke's powerful and multi-layered film premieres Friday May 4 at New York City'sIFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas at West 3rd Street, ifccenter.com, box office: 212 924-7771 Set to the propulsive music of jazz greats Freddie Redd and Jackie McLean (who appear in the film), THE CONNECTION is one of the most vital and fascinating of all American independent films. Created by a woman director working outside the Hollywood tradition, the film fearlessly shattered stereotypes and even questioned the filmmaking process itself. Yet for many years, it was virtually unseen. A dynamic member of the postwar independent film movement, Clarke was one of the first filmmakers -- and the only woman -- to sign the New American Cinema manifesto in 1961. For her debut feature, she decided to take on a controversial off-Broadway play by Jack Gelber. "The Connection" was a complicated and challenging theater piece -- a play within a play, within a jazz session. It featured a group of heroin addicts (some of them musicians) waiting around in a grungy New York loft for their drug connection to arrive. Meanwhile, a theatrical producer and writer intent on putting on an "authentic" play, are hanging out with and studying the strung-out junkies. Throughout the play, brilliant Beat dialogue alternated with cool jazz. Clarke changed the character of the playwright into a preppy young filmmaker out to make a name for himself by documenting the "scene." Clarke, who was friends with many of the new cinéma vérité documentarians, added a level of humor by satirizing the earnestness and professed purity of that genre. Keeping the play's one-set location (re-created in grungy and brilliant detail by future five-time Oscar®-nominated art director Albert Brenner), Clarke set her camera free to swirl, swoop and move to the rhythms of the film's cool jazz score. When it premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1961, the edgy, exciting and kinetic film was acclaimed a masterpiece. Although Clarke had fully embraced the avant-garde nature of Gelber's play, she was unprepared for the furor her film version would raise. In Hollywood films, addicts were usually "good men gone bad" or crazed "dope fiends." In contrast, the junkies in THE CONNECTION are vulgar, funny, erudite, talented and unapologetic. They speak about heroin with enthusiasm, and refer to it as "shit." And it was this four-letter word that helped put the film on the censors' radar. Cinephiles encountering UCLA Film & Television Archive's sparkling restoration will be astonished by the image and sound quality. Arthur Ornitz's black-and-white cinematography lushly glows and the great jazz of pianist Redd and saxophone legend McLean grooves, making THE CONNECTION's rediscovery one of the cinema events of the year! THE CONNECTION is the first release in Milestone's ambitious four-years-in-the-making PROJECT SHIRLEY -- to acquire and bring out the films of Shirley Clarke. Although there are more than 100 monographs, books and DVDs devoted to the works of contemporaries like John Cassavetes, Stan Brakhage and Andy Warhol; there is not one entirely dedicated to the life or works of Clarke. Milestone has acquired the rights to four of Clarke's features and more than a dozen of her short films and will be working with the archives to bring out restored versions over the course of the next year. Next on the list, ORNETTE: MADE IN AMERICA, will be premiering this August at the IFC Center.

Quotes

Man, I believe anything that's illegal is illegal because it makes more money for more people that way.
- Cowboy

Trivia

Notes

Filmed on location in New York City. Original running time: 110 min. Also reviewed at 93 min. The Connection marked the motion picture debut of African-American actor Roscoe Lee Browne (1925-2007).

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 2000

Released in United States February 12, 1997

Released in United States Winter February 15, 1962

Shown at Brisbane International Film Festival July 27 - August 8, 2000.

Released in United States 2000 (Shown at Brisbane International Film Festival July 27 - August 8, 2000.)

Released in United States February 12, 1997 (Shown in New York City (Anthology Film Archives) February 12, 1997.)

Released in United States Winter February 15, 1962