Shirley Clarke Penelope Gilliatt - Essay

Penelope Gilliatt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Connection] is one of the rare stage pieces that is improved in its screen version.

This often means, as the junkies beadily note, nothing more than that the director has been visually flashy, eliminated the lines that can be better expressed in the cinema by the way someone shrugs or behaves when he is alone, and perhaps realised the potentialities of film to the extent of adding a car crash to the action. Shirley Clarke, the young American who made The Connection, has done something more crucial: though she adheres closely to the original text and never stirs outside the junkies' pad, she has altered the relation of the audience to what is going on, which in The Connection is peculiarly important.

In the stage version, the play hangs on the Pirandellian device of an "author" who is planted in the audience, complaining intermittently that his work is being ruined by junkie actors…. In Gelber's screenplay the character of the author is eliminated: part of his function is appropriated by the "director", Jim Dunn, but because he is on the screen with the others he is absorbed into the fiction. The opposition is no longer between actors and author, pretending to be sparring at a rehearsal, but between actors and spectators, which is what Gelber always intended…. [In] the cinema the correct, discomfiting question becomes one about our own motives in wanting to spy on drug addicts. In the theatre the audience often felt embarrassed; in the cinema it feels accused.

This is partly due to the rewriting, but mostly to Shirley Clarke's brilliant insistence that the camera is the instrument...

(The entire section is 686 words.)