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Story Of A Junkie (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • Story Of A Junkie (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: April 30th, 2024.
    Director: Lech Kowalski
    Cast: John Spacely
    Year: 1985
    Purchase From Amazon

    Story Of A Junkie – Movie Review:

    New York City filmmaker Lech Kowalski is no stranger to the NYC drug scene. He followed Dee Dee Ramone around and did the same for Johnny Thunders, documenting their exploits on film in movies like Hey Is Dee Dee Home and Born To Lose: The Last Rock And Roll Movie. Before he documented the drug abuse of NYC punk rock stars though, he made Story Of A Junkie – a docudrama shot on the fly on The Lower East Side of Manhattan.

    The movie follows around a heroin addict named Gringo played by the late John Spacely, who sadly passed away from aids contracted by intravenous drug use a few years after the film was finished. We observe his life as he sets out looking to get a job and make something of himself. Sadly, we know that this is never going to happen as he's just too wrapped up in his own addictions to be of any real use to anyone. He is, as the title obviously infers, a junkie and he's such a slave to the needle that he will do anything he has to in order to get a fix. That's his number one priority.

    Shot cinema verite style without permits on the seedy side of the Big Apple before it was cleaned up, Story Of A Junkie is a very dark and very gritty film. There are a couple of humorous moments scattered throughout the movie, but those are few and far between. Most of the movie takes place at night, either on the streets of the city, in the squalid apartments in which the characters live or in actual shooting galleries where users go to inject their drugs. None of the drug use or related situations in the film were faked for the camera - these were all real heroin addicts using real drugs in real flophouses.

    While the story may flip flop around a fair bit and spend a lot of its time meandering, the film is still an effective slice of life that we should all personally hope to never have to deal with in real life. It paints Gringo’s addiction as an ugly thing and while sometimes it's hard to have sympathy for the users, given that they’re so transfixed on getting high and nothing else, the movie reminds us that they are still human beings, even if sometimes it doesn't seem that way.

    Predating both Trainspotting and Requiem For A Dream, the movie succeeds not only on the basis of Kowalski's guerilla filmmaking tactics but also on the lead actor, John Spacely (who had a bit part in Alex Cox's Sid And Nancy). He's believable because he really was an addict at the time, but he still manages to give enough of a 'performance' in the movie that he's able to carry the film. Sure, at times it seems a little long and it isn't very professional looking (though that's reportedly on purpose), but that adds to the gritty realism of the movie and for the most part Story Of A Junkie winds up an interesting movie about a real problem that still plagues the country and likely always will. On top of that, the movie also serves as a fascinating time capsule of what New York City’s Lower East Side was like decades back.

    Story Of A Junkie – Blu-ray Review:

    Story Of A Junkie arrives on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome in AVC encoded 1080p in “newly scanned and restored in 4K from its 16mm original camera negative” on a 50GB region free disc framed at 1.33.1. This looks a lot better than the previous DVD edition that came out via Troma in 2004 which used a tape-sourced master for the entire transfer. Vinegar Syndrome’s restoration boasts really good color reproduction and detail levels that are about as good as they’re probably going to get given the film’s original shooting conditions and how much of it takes place in dingy, dimly lit apartments and outside at night under streetlights. There aren’t any problems with compression artifacts to note and this always looks like a proper film transfer and shows no obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement problems. Some minor white specks show up here and there but despite the fact that this is an exceptionallygrainy movie, there isn’t much in the way of actual print damage here to note.

    The only audio option for the feature is an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, with optional subtitles provided in English only. The audio is pretty clean on this one, cleaner than you’d probably expect it to be, with the levels reasonably well balanced and the dialogue generally quite clear. The score has some decent range to it as well.

    The Dance Of Death is a nineteen minute interview with director Lech Kowalski who talks about his own experiences in Alphabet City, what makes the neighborhood unique, the art scene that developed in the Lower East Side, drug use and the drug trade in the neighborhood and why he wanted to make a movie about it, constructing certain scenes around Spacely's habit, creating a film out of footage shot with no structure, what Spacely was like to work with and like as a person, having to be very careful with who he was shooting and when he was shooting them and lots more.

    Thirteen Weeks Of Hell: Editing Story Of A Junkie spends eleven minutes with editor Val Kuklowsky who talks about how he came to work on the picture through a mutual friend, what Kowalski was like to work with and how they collaborated, his ability to capture anarchy on film, working together first on D.O.A., what New York was like at the time and how the city's grit created some great films, the subculture that Story Of A Junkie explores, choices that were made during the thirteen week editing process, his own memories of meeting Spacely and how feels about the movie years later.

    Drop The Needle is a twelve minute interview with composer Chuck Kentis that covers his thoughts on the movie and on Spacely, how he got his start in the music business in the early seventies as a keyboard player, the band scene on the East Coast, people that he worked with over the years, how he came to work on the film in the first place, trying to create music that would work with the footage, intentionally creating a very sparse soundtrack, memories of recording specific pieces used on the soundtrack and other details relating to his work on the film.

    Troma: The Last Stop On The Train lets Troma President Lloyd Kaufman speak for four minutes about why he feels that the movie is a masterpiece, how The Lower East Side has changed since the movie was made, how accurate a depiction of the city at the time the movie really is, how Troma wound up distributing it and Kowalski's feelings on that, getting the movie released and how proud he is to have the film in the Troma catalogue.

    Carried over from the old Troma DVD is a ten minute interview with Ann Barish, the producer of the film, conducted of course by Lloyd Kaufman. While discussing the merits of the film, they're approached by a recovering drug user named Ken Ross on the street who reaffirms the importance of the film's message - mainly that drugs are bad for you.

    It’s also worth noting that this release comes bundled with the film’s entire soundtrack, from composer Chuck Kentis, on an audio CD, which is always a welcome addition to any Blu-ray release. Unfortunately the commentary track with Lech Kowalski that was on the older DVD edition has not been carried over to this Blu-ray release. This disc also comes packaged with some reversible cover sleeve art and, if purchased through the Vinegar Syndrome website, a limited edition slipcover designed by Adam Juresko that is limited to 3,000 units.

    Story Of A Junkie - The Final Word:

    Story Of A Junkie still hits pretty hard, offering an uncompromising look at the toils of addiction and how they affect not only one person, but a neighborhood. The Blu-ray edition from Vinegar Syndrome looks and sounds very good, considering the film’s origins, and the extra features are quite interesting.



    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Story Of A Junkie Blu-ray screen caps!

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