[box cover]

Union Square

One of the great appeals of the documentary film is that it provides a safe distance from unappealing subjects. There are some places that are too dangerous to travel to, and some people you might cross a street to avoid, but a documentary can get up close and personal with such, and it can in fact make us feel empathy for people we normally would avoid. Such is the appeal of 2003's Union Square, which follows eight New York heroin addicts who live on the streets and in the parks of the Union Square district. They're hustlers, panhandling for money in various ways, and combating the daily struggle of getting enough cash to stay high. All have their own absorbing stories. Cheyenne, the girl of the group, lives with the dependent Mike, who uses her to help feed his habit. She's got a daughter that she lost to the state because of her addiction. Mike tries to make his money by playing guitar, but mostly he just hassles Cheyenne. "Stealth" is covered in tattoos, some of which are dedicated to his father, while Mark's struggle is trying to get in a rehab clinic while being broke. Danny wears an eye-patch to get more money, and he has three kids. Ron is the most fascinating simply because he's the most collected personality of the bunch and is exceptionally smart about his habit — though he's still a prisoner of it. That speaks for pretty much everyone; they're all aware and lucid about their state of being, but they cannot shake the monkey from their backs. Despite the interesting nature of the source-material, director Stephen Szklarski makes a lot of mistakes with Union Square — the documentary seems unfocused and anecdotal, which creates a weightless middle section. On top of that, Szklarski shows subjects shooting up more than once, and to diminishing returns; it might be a part of the daily habit, but watching needles being jabbed into scabby arms becomes visually repetitive (in addition to being consistently repugnant). That said, even though the film points out that these individuals will take advantage of anyone who shows them kindness, it also creates a sense of empathy for them. Despite their flaws, Union Square makes the viewer hope that these people will kick the junk and move on. Alliance International Pictures presents the film in a full-frame transfer (1.33:1) and monaural DD 2.0 audio. Extras include a feature-length commentary with Szklarski, but the most fascinating supplement is the section called "Union Square revisited," which offers portraits of the eight subjects and where they have gone on to in their lives (some have cleaned up, while others have disappeared, one landed in jail, and another contracted AIDS). Two theatrical trailers, keep-case.

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