And though Dunne wrote the first draft, The Panic in Needle Park feels more like a Didion work. It opens with Helen, played by Kitty Winn, looking overwhelmed on a crowded subway. We soon learn that she has just gotten an abortion—a "free scrape," as her artist boyfriend (a young Raul Julia) calls it. As Roger Ebert has noted, this calls to mind Maria Wyeth, the protagonist of Didion's 1970 novel, Play It as It Lays, whose own abortion precipitates her decline into drugs and disaster. (Didion was finishing that novel just as she and Dunne began the Needle Park screenplay.) Helen's youth, and the bohemian trappings of her boyfriend's apartment, meanwhile, call to mind the subjects of Didion's nonfiction—in particular, the drug-addled adolescents in "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," written just a couple of years earlier. Like them, Helen seems lost and uncertain, someone who was "never taught and would never now learn the games that held the society together," as Didion writes in her famous essay.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Slouching Towards Hollywood
The DVD release of The Panic in Needle Park got me thinking about Joan Didion as a screenwriter. I've now written about the subject for Slate: