Born to Win (Ivan Passer / U.S., 1971):

The hopheadís grin of comic horror: "Kinda think of myself as an artist." The main event is George Segalís whirligig of hipsterisms in the face of accelerating disaster, played in the heightened grain of Ivan Passerís skeevy, razory New York City. The anti-hero is a former hairdresser turned sewer hepcat seeking his next fix of smack; the title is tattooed on his forearm amid the syringe craters, his junkie wife (Paula Prentiss) greets him at the pimpís dive with a slurry "Why donít you give me a call sometime?" "Nice, straight" Karen Black takes Segal in, falls in love and accompanies him into the abyss. Two sequences give you the measure of the film. In one, the protagonist is stripped and locked in a dealerís nightmarishly burgundy bedroom; Segal dons a frilly peignoir, flashes the woman across the window, and saunters away with stogie in mouth as the police bursts in following a complaint. In the other, his planned beach interlude with Black is mercilessly revealed as the delusion it is, and, faced with pale sand, dirty water, and the pangs of addiction, he buries his face into her arms. The Czech director is fascinated by American rootlessness, by the way human beings seem free yet lost -- amid unerring photographs of Times News Square in the beginning of the decade, Passer frames Segal sitting on a bench after having failed to betray his supplier, with marquees announcing "Playland" and "Sudden Terror" behind him, above his shaggy head. "Come back home to me," Black pleads desperately, yet as with many other gritty, heartfelt studies of the early Seventies, the very idea of "home" has become precarious. With Jay Fletcher, Hector Elizondo, Robert De Niro, Ed Madsen, and Burt Young.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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