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June 27, 2024

30 Vintage Photos of Al Pacino and Kitty Winn on the Set of “The Panic in Needle Park” (1971)

The Panic in Needle Park is a 1971 American drama film directed by Jerry Schatzberg and starring Al Pacino (in his first lead role) and Kitty Winn. The screenplay was written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, adapted from the 1966 novel by James Mills.

The film portrays life among a group of heroin addicts who hang out in “Needle Park” (a nickname at that time for Sherman Square on Manhattan’s Upper West Side near 72nd Street and Broadway). The film is a love story between Bobby (Pacino), a young addict and small-time hustler, and Helen (Kitty Winn), a restless woman who finds Bobby charismatic. She becomes an addict, and life goes downhill for them both as their addictions worsen, eventually leading to a series of betrayals.

As noted in the onscreen credits, the film was shot entirely in New York City. According to the film’s studio production notes, portions were shot at Needle Park and the Upper West Side area of New York City, at Riverside Park, in a New York City prison and hospital ward, on the Staten Island Ferry, and in the East Village. The studio notes reported that makeup man Herman Buchman studied the “track” marks on the arms of hospital patients and victims in morgues and achieved an authentic look for the actors by using a liquid called Flexible Collodion. In scenes in which actors appear to inject themselves, a registered nurse was on set, serving as a technical advisor.

Ned Rorem was to compose the film’s score until it was decided that no music would be used (his isolated and unused score is included as a special feature on the Blu-ray). Much of the film features cinéma vérité-style footage. It is believed to be the first mainstream film to feature actual drug injection.

Didion and Dunne visited Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, during the recording of the album Waiting for the Sun as he was considered for the role of Bobby, but went with Pacino instead.

The Panic in Needle Park marked Al Pacino’s first starring feature film role, although it was neither his nor Kitty Winn’s feature film debut, as the studio notes and some reviews erroneously reported. Below is a selection of 30 fascinating photos of Pacino and Winn on the set of the film: 


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