Shirley Clarke

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Arlene Croce

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The extent to which we can believe in the actuality of events, and not merely in their verisimilitude, is certainly the test of The Connection. If it doesn't impress us as an honestly played-out psycho-drama in which crucial revelations are at stake, it becomes an ingenious hoax to which our sympathies attach only at a level of execution and performance…. Because the cinema is now passing through its Pirandello phase, The Connection is being cited as an example of what movies can do to baffle our perceptions creatively. It is not a good one.

The Connection, unfortunately, doesn't fool you as a living record. In fact, for the first few minutes you think it isn't going to work at all. By mid-film, however, it has succeeded in posing a visual paradox that anyone who understands how movies are made can appreciate; and of course the more you understand the more there is to appreciate. But the paradox of a staged documentary is surely a thin one for a movie. If most of the criticisms one can make of the film can also be made of the play, it is because The Connection remains theater. Gelber's film script maintains exactly the same pact with reality that was formed in his play. The result is that the film is less effective than the play, less immediate, and less immediately emotional and strange. What ought to have taken us to the heart of the Kracauerian dilemma takes us instead around and around in a maze of technical wonders. (pp. 43-4)

[Because] the entire action of the play is cast into or against conventions of stage time and stage place, it is only like changing the frame around a picture. The effects are not phony, but they are not the effects of a real film either…. I am not now speaking of content, or even technique, because if technique is camera-handling, lighting, cutting and sound manipulation, Mrs. Clarke knows all about it. My point is that these films are uncreated. They do not occupy space in time. That is really the only rule for the "well-made film" that The Connection should have observed, and it is a rule I think Mrs. Clarke has that gift for, which is very like the gift of a dancer, but she does not show it here. (p. 44)

If The Connection is to succeed as a human and not a mental experience, it must persuade us that we are involved in the consequences of an act committed in the real world—not the world of realism, but the world we re-enter when we leave the movie theater. I am making the terrible suggestion that Mr. Gelber and Mrs. Clarke, if they are really serious about experimenting with the way it "really" is, should have come into the film themselves. If they had done so, and followed out their own emotions with truth and unforced logic, we should have had a film that was a film. I will hazard that it would have been a film with very different philosophical conclusions from the play, and perhaps not like the play at all. The very least it could have been is something completely undreamed of. The most that can be said of it now, and it is being said with shameless enthusiasm on all sides, is: "It's not really real." (p. 45)

Arlene Croce, "Film Reviews: 'The Connection': … Con," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1962 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XV, No. 4, Summer, 1962, pp. 42-5.

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