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William Friedkin

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on: April 17, 2013, 11:23:14 PM
The Exorcist Director William Friedkin Tells All in His No-Bullshit Memoir
By Paul Teetor; LA Weekly

Hollywood heavy hitters normally wait until they're out of the film game to write their memoirs. That way they can settle scores and write the first draft of their cinematic history without severing relationships they still need.

Not William Friedkin. Still going strong at 77, the director is releasing his tell-it-like-it-was memoir, The Friedkin Connection, in the middle of a late-career renaissance. Horror-thriller Bug (2006) and Killer Joe (2011) garnered some of the best reviews of his 50-year career. Killer Joe, a critical darling slapped with an NC-17 rating, would have done even better at the box office had Friedkin given in to the rating board's demands that he trim some of the Southern-fried depravity surrounding Matthew McConaughey's police detective with a side career as a contract killer.

Friedkin's against-all-odds success story is compelling reading from the start. He was raised in the white slums of Chicago by Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine; his mother was a saint who kept him away from the neighborhood toughs; his father a semi-pro baseball player turned clothing salesman. Inspired by Citizen Kane to become a director but with no money for college, Friedkin started working in the mailroom of TV station WGN. Within a couple of years he was directing live TV, and soon his documentary about a convicted murderer, The People vs. Paul Crump, won several awards and contributed to the commutation of Crump's death sentence.

Lured to Hollywood, Friedkin made The French Connection, which brought a gritty sense of cinema veritť to what could have been a conventional police procedural. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Gene Hackman) and Best Director, catapulting him into the New Hollywood stratosphere. When he followed it up with one of the all-time box office champs, The Exorcist, all of his worst qualities ó arrogance, abrasiveness, obsessiveness ó were in full bloom. He thought he had found the magic formula, but this time it produced Sorcerer, a dark, relentless film that came out the same week as Star Wars, a popcorn film that crushed Sorcerer at the box office and signaled the end of the serious, morally curious films that Friedkin specialized in. The project drained his energy and killed his mojo ó "my hardest shoot ever," he says ó and led to a long period of decline and despair before a comeback that began with To Live and Die in L.A. (1985).

A notorious womanizer, Friedkin had three failed marriages ó to L.A. newscaster Kelly Lange, French actress Jeanne Moreau and British actress Lesley-Anne Down ó before finding lasting love with actress-turnedĖstudio mogul Sherry Lansing in 1991.

L.A. WEEKLY: Why wouldn't you make the changes to Killer Joe requested by the ratings board?

WILLIAM FRIEDKIN: Fuck them where they breathe. I gave them 17 seconds, but they bounced it right back for more. So I said the hell with it, that's it, that's the picture.

Why do you say luck and ambition are just as important as talent in Hollywood?

Ambition is probably more important than luck and talent. A lot of the people directing movies today, writing them and even big stars, they're more lucky and ambitious than talented. I've seen great films at festivals, people have sent me great DVDs and emails, I see very talented people out there that are not going to get a shot. Maybe one out of 20 will get a shot.

Tougher to handle: success or failure?

Failure is tougher to handle, in spite of a lot of guys that would like to say otherwise. Failure is more difficult because you often don't know why it happened or what you can do about it. Success is easier because you just ride the wave.

Steve McQueen loved the script for Sorcerer and said he would do it if you filmed it closer to L.A. or if you gave Ali McGraw a producer's job so she could be on location with him. Should you have accommodated McQueen's requests?

Without a doubt. That was the biggest fuck-up I ever committed. I was arrogant and stupid and didn't accede to his requests, which I would have done today.

Why are you able to still make films that matter, when so many of your peers are either dead or long out of the film business?

One reason ó it's the God's honest truth ó is that I have never tried any kind of drug or narcotics. Never even smoked grass.

Did many of your peers destroy themselves with substance abuse?

Many did. The most important thing you need to direct a move is stamina. Your brain can't be scrambled. There's a lot of stuff out there today that looks like it was made by scrambled brains.

You've been happily married to Sherry Lansing for 22 years, but you chose not to write about your three failed marriages and all the other women you were with before Sherry. Why not?

No one is interested in that. I'm not a sex symbol. I actually wrote all that stuff, but I looked at the whole book and thought, this is going to trip people up. They did not end well and I didn't want to be in a position to either lay blame or accept blame. I also wrote about casual, one-night affairs with famous people, but then I didn't want to tarnish their memory.

The French Connection won the Oscar and The Exorcist didn't, but The Exorcist became a part of American pop culture. Why?

It resonates with people on a far deeper level because it deals with the mystery of faith. French Connection is a good thriller, a damn good story with interesting characters, but Exorcist is about the mystery of life and faith. Even atheists are interested in that.

What caused your heart attack at 41?

Deep-dish pizza from Chicago and hot dogs from everywhere. I consumed more hot dogs than Wimpy did hamburgers.

You say Al Pacino was always late to the set of Cruising and unprepared with his lines. That'll be a shock to fans who consider him a great craftsman.

It's no skin off my ass. That's the truth. I tried to write the book as honestly as I could. Once I agreed to do it, I decided not to bullshit anybody. I was going to tell things the way I remembered them and how I felt about them.

You tell the story of fighting back against Joel the bully as a kid, so why did you resort to bullying so often to get your way on film sets?

Be specific.

I don't have it right in front of me, but ...

Well, fuck you ó you want me to name the times I was a bully?

Are you saying you never bullied anybody on your sets?

Absolutely not. Are you talking about the handful of occasions I slapped someone to get a performance? Read Sidney Lumet's autobiography and he discusses doing that. I know that Hitchcock did that and John Ford did it. No one did it constantly, nor would you do it to every actor you work with.

You say your mother sacrificed her life for you and is responsible for whatever goodness is in you. What goodness is in you?

Oh, fuck that. My mother taught me ó and my wife underscores constantly ó don't brag on yourself.

You admit to risking lives to get that great chase in The French Connection. Why do that?

I would not do that again, but I did in my youth. I was sort of fearless and I also had faith. Fortunately, by the grace of God, no one got hurt in my films.

You admit that after The French Connection and The Exorcist, you were overtaken by a sense of entitlement and hubris. In hindsight, how should you have handled that kind of overwhelming success?

I should have been more compassionate.

You sometimes cultivated a rep as a dangerously psychotic person. Why?

It got a lot of studio executives off my back. I learned that from Bill Blatty.

Easy Riders and Raging Bulls, Peter Biskind's book about the New Hollywood of the '70s, paints you as a womanizer, a tyrant and a bully quick to fire people for any reason or no reason at all. Any truth to that?

I've actually never read the book, but I've talked to some of my friends who are portrayed in it, and we all share the opinion that it is partial truth, partial myth and partial out-and-out lies by mostly rejected girlfriends and wives.

Ellen Burstyn claims she had an affair with you after she starred in The Exorcist. True?

I hope she enjoyed it.
ďDon't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.Ē - Andy Warhol

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Reply #1 on: April 18, 2013, 12:32:50 AM
What a terrible interviewer, but what wonderful answers.
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Reply #2 on: April 18, 2013, 11:15:01 AM
Seriously. If only I could be as feisty and hysterical a curmudgeon in my 70s. I wanna read this book now.


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Reply #3 on: August 30, 2013, 04:10:17 PM
Bit late, still I love the guy (in I-owe-you-a-liquor way):

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Reply #4 on: September 09, 2013, 04:57:14 AM
Bit cheesy title, still very good interview (not much of usual Exorcist/French Connection stuff).

Talking With Legendary Director William Friedkin
Source: The Credits

William Friedkin, legendary director of The French Connection (1971), which won him the Best Director Oscar, and The Exorcist (1973), one of the greatest horror films of all time, recently published his memoirs, The Friedkin Connection, a candid look at his early life and his long movie career.

We caught up with him as he was touring the country to promote his book, as well has host several screenings of his late 70ís masterpiece, Sorcerer (1977), which this summer underwent a digital restoration supervised by Friedkin. Itís premiering at the Venice Film Festival this week, as well as getting a theatrical re-release from Warner Brothers and Universal. New Blu-Ray and DVD editions will follow later in the fall. Mr. Friedkin will also be receiving the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the film festival.

The Credits:  I would like to talk a bit about Sorcerer (1977), because I know you have been working on a digital restoration of the film. What inspired you to want to do a new version of Henri-Georges Clouzotís The Wages of Fear (1953)?

Friedkin:  I had seen The Wages of Fear back in Chicago before I ever became a film director.  I loved the film, as well as Clouzotís other masterpiece, Diabolique (1955).  I came back to it about two or three years after I finished working on The Exorcist (1973).  It then just occurred to me that The Wages of Fear was kind of a timeless theme. It was about four strangers who didnít like each other. They were all imprisoned by their own sins, and they had to either cooperate with one another in order to survive, or blow up.  It seemed to me that that was a metaphor for the world at that time, and even more so now

So I went to see H. G. Clouzot [the director], and I spoke to him and told him what I had in mind.  He said, ďok, but I donít own the rights. They are owned by George Arnaud [author of the French novel on which the film was based], and he and I havenít spoken in years.Ē  I asked if he would mind if I contacted Arnaud, and he said, ďno, youíre doing an American version of this, it will be different enough.Ē I said it would be the same thing, but with different characters and different situations, and I would want to dedicate the film to him.  And he said that was not necessary, but I did it anyway. At that time I could neither read nor speak French, so I hadnít read Arnaudís novel. My knowledge of it, and what [screenwriter] Wally Green and I worked from, was the film.

Watching the film again recently, I noticed that there is very little dialog in the film.

Well, that was a conscious thing on my part.  When I went on tour for The Exorcist, in Thailand, where they ran a few American films and other foreign films, there was never a version either dubbed or subtitled in Thai.  So they used to run an American film, often on a sheet tacked to a wall, and a guy would stand next to the screen and they would stop the projector every ten or fifteen minutes, and this guy would explain to the audience what the characters had said and what was going on. I made a silent vow to myself to never again make a film where they would have to stop it to explain it in Thai.

Sorcerer seems to be made up of about ten to fifteen very tight action sequences with little to no dialogue.  Was that created during the screenwriting process or did it evolve in the editing?

Yes, events. Itís a series of events that coalesce at one point maybe 40 or so minutes into the film.  And yes, Wally Green, who wrote the script, contributed enormously to it. So many of the ideas were his, and all of the writing was his. I only altered a few things when we got to the actual locations. Itís his screenplay and I donít share the screenplay credit with him because I donít deserve any screenplay credit.

When you were working on location on these extensive action sequences, did you do any preparatory storyboarding?

No, I never storyboard anything.  What you have to do is get them in your mindís eye.  You have to see them, feel them. And thatís how you make those sequences, one shot at a time. But you have to see, visualize, the whole sequence.

For instance, the scene with the trucks crossing the frayed rope bridge.  You shot that for several weeks, if not months.

Yes, but not every day. We had a usual pattern. Two rivers virtually dried up on us. The first river was in the Dominican Republic. It was twelve feet of rushing water, but by the time we had built the bridge and got ready to shoot, it was down to less than a foot. But John Fox, the production designer, found another location with a similar river in Mexico.  That was also about twelve feet of rushing water, and it dried up to about three feet.  So I had to add a lot of different effects, mechanically, not digitally, because we didnít have CGI or anything like it. So I added rain, we brought in these big pumps and pumped water out of the river, we dammed up the river so we were able to have a bigger flow than was actually there, and I needed cloudy days to shoot it because of the rain. But it was sunny all day when we were there, so we could only film in the morning. Then we would have to stop and shoot something else, but in Mexico there was nothing left to shoot, so we just had a hiatus until about 6 in the evening, when we could come back and shoot a split day, from about 7pm, when the sun had gone down, until about 10pm, when we ran out of light.

During that time, were you continually building up the shots and the sequences while you were shooting them?

Yes, because we never saw rushes. We had to send the negative back to California to be processed.  There were very few phones and it was very difficult to get a call through, but the director of photography, John Stephens, was able to get a call through to the lab maybe once a week to determine that the stuff was ok. But we didnít see it. I didnít see it until I finished shooting. I had no idea what we were getting, or whether it was properly shot or exposed. There was a great deal of trust involved. When I came back to Los Angeles to edit the film, I was pleasantly surprised. The stuff looked pretty damn good.   The editor, Bud Smith, and I put it together without any necessary order. We sort of improvised the montage, although itís certainly based on an event that begins at point A and ends at point Z.

Some of your films seem to have a structure of independent montage sequences, that donít necessarily have to be placed in a strict narrative order.

Yes. When you get in the editing room, the film that you shot almost speaks to you, almost literally. That happened to me with The French Connection (1971), where I had taken out nine scenes that I had shot, and I was convinced they had to be in the final cut.  As I was putting them in and trimming them and sequencing them, it was almost as though a voice was screaming at me, ďno, no, I am not this. I am that. Get this out of there.Ē

In the sequence after the four main characters are chosen for the mission, thereís a tracking shot of Roy Scheider looking at the broken trucks, which leads into an extended montage of them fixing the trucks, and which includes cuts of an abstract flame [from the oil well explosion] and also two close ups of Francisco Rabalís face, as he is waiting to kill one of the guys. Youíre telling the story, but a viewer gets an almost visceral pleasure from the editing and the soundtrack music by Tangerine Dream.

Itís telling the story visually. When I shot those different scenes, I had no idea how I was going to use them. I had made close-ups of the big oil well fire that I didnít know how I could ever use again. I had a beautiful close-up of Rabal, and I shot it because he was sitting next to a candle in his room, and the light was so beautiful on his face that I made shots of him without knowing how I could use them. The whole sequence of rebuilding the trucks, in effect raising them from the dead Ė thatís one of the reasons why the second truck is called Lazaro, or Lazarus Ė I thought I would keep that whole scene together without any interruption when I shot it.

Are you trying to subvert whatever genre your working in through the formal qualities of how you shoot it and how you edit it?

Yes, I think thatís true, but I donít set out to subvert anything. I just love to discover the process, and I feel that the process of editing is like a dialog between myself, and the film that Iíve shot. I remember reading about F. Scott Fitzgerald, some 50 or 60 years ago, that he had a little card pinned to a bulletin board above his wall where he typed his novels. The card said, ďaction is character.Ē Iíve tried to follow that. What a person does is who they are. You donít have to explain them, you just show what theyíre doing and thatís who they are.

Iím so glad that the movie is going to get out there again and people are going to see it.

Iím glad that the film is coming out. I think itís really a tribute to the people that made it. That may sound like bullshit, but I donít bullshit. Iím not out to confuse anybody or blow my own horn, but that film and all of my films are collaborations of many people. I was the director, but there were other people whose contributions were equal to mine, I assure you. People like John Fox, our art director, and Roy Walker. Roy became a really great production designer.

Can we talk a little about Cruising (1980)? I recently watched the film, and in doing a little research I came across a 2004 essay by film critic Bill Krohn. From reading the essay and seeing the film, it seems you were really trying to have several people portray the killer.

That came out of the editing process. It wasnít in the script. I didnít realize that that was a possibility until I got into the cutting room. I thought, the actual murders that [Paul] Batson confessed to were basically unsolved. There were still a lot of questions, because there were a lot more body parts placed in huge drawers in the morgue marked ďCUPPI,Ē which stood for ďcircumstances unknown pending a police investigation.Ē There were many more CUPPI murders than the ones that Batson confessed to, and it was not all gay men. It occurred to me, that as these murders were not solved, there may have been other possible explanations.

In his essay, Krohn refers to you as a montage director. He says you work with ďmodulesĒ of scenes that you moved around during the editing process.

Thatís correct. The whole meaning of the film was a question. How were these murders committed? A fantasy-like atmosphere existed in New York at that time. Not only these murders but other mysterious deaths were occurring, primarily but not exclusively in the gay community. Shortly after that, these deaths had a name: AIDS. When I was filming Cruising, maybe scientists understood the cause and effect, but we didnít know about AIDS until about a year later. So there was a kind of a panic around New York. It was best captured by this really sensational writer for the Village Voice, Arthur Bell. He wrote about the deaths in the gay community and the murders, as kind of warning shots to gay men.  I read those articles and they were part of what inspired me to make that film.

It seems that most reviewers at the time were writing about the protests and controversy around the movie, rather than reviewing the movie itself.

As I recall, most of the people who reviewed the film, reviewed their feelings about gay rights, gay liberation and the gay lifestyle.  The reviews were largely attacks on me for making such a politically incorrect film.  There were no politically correct films about gay life in those days, because studios for the most part wouldnít touch them.  If they did, everything was watered down and nervous about dealing with the subject. It was a completely different era. Today there are gay people in the mainstream of all stories.  There has been tremendous progress in gay life since then. But at the time, there were a number of critics who thought that Cruising would increase the attacks on gay people, both physically and in print. It would increase murder and violence against the gay community. Fortunately that didnít happen.

Your last movie, Killer Joe (2011) was the first movie you shot digitally. In terms of the new technology, where do you think the industry is headed?

Well, hereís what Iím aware of.  I canít say that I endorse this, but this is the way things are going. They are going toward streaming. All of the studios are counting on a gigantic revenue stream from streaming films to people on their iPhones, iPads, computers and television sets. That is the next big thing in terms of the economics of filmmaking. In other words, theyíre trying to get rid of all of the hardware and software. 35 millimeter [film] is dead and gone. Eastman Kodak is out of business, and so is Fuji. Most of the theaters, and all of the major chains, have converted to digital projection. So thatís where the technology is going. I donít know how much it will affect the films themselves in terms of stories and characters. You still have to light a scene interestingly or even beautifully. I donít know that the stories are going to change much. Most of the films today are only enhanced by the digital technology. Most of the films today are about comic books or video games or vampires, or werewolves. They are complete fantasy.  One of the most important anniversaries in the history of film is May 1.  On May 1, 1941, Citizen Kane opened at the RKO Palace in New York, and it changed film forever.  They arenít making too many Citizen Kanes today. Citizen Kane couldnít rely on digital technology, but the effects produced mechanically and optically are just wonderful, and all in service of the story and the characters. Citizen Kane would not be a better film if it was done in 3D or digitally. It is by far the greatest film Iíve ever seen. I love a lot of films, but that is the one that inspired me, and so many others, to try to become a filmmaker.

Thank you for speaking with us, and congratulations on being awarded the Golden Lion at Venice, and on the restoration of Sorcerer.

Thank you and thank you for your time, I appreciate it.
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Reply #5 on: September 17, 2013, 05:14:31 AM
Simple mind - simple pleasures...


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Reply #6 on: February 01, 2014, 03:52:40 PM
Long discussion with Friedkin about "Sorcerer": http://www.cinematheque.fr/fr/dans-salles/rencontres-conferences/espace-videos/master-class-william-friedkin-propos-sorcerer,v,701.html

Some highlights. Friedkin wants to be remembered for "Sorcerer" more than any other film. Paramount has rights to theatrical distribution, Universal to TV, Warner Bros to home media - makes total sense. Restoration took 6 months. When asked about restoration vs. creation, he gets a little animated (something to do with infamous Blu-ray of  "The French Connection"?).
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Reply #7 on: April 15, 2014, 10:54:52 PM
Nicolas Winding Refn in conversation with William Friedkin


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Reply #8 on: April 23, 2014, 07:27:06 PM
What's Sorcerer like? What do you folks think about it?

I'm intrigued.


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Reply #9 on: April 23, 2014, 09:03:39 PM
tangerine dream baby

^sexy talk(?) sorcerer's score was also terminator's temp track, and i hear that's ridiculously noticeable

the movie: in certain circles it's regarded above wages of fear, i think that's crazy talk, but i think it's impressive it could even be considered

definitely recommended


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Reply #10 on: April 23, 2014, 09:41:11 PM
it's both very different and at the same time alike wages of fear. I liked the first one more, but sorcerer is awesome in it's own right. it takes it's time to develop the characters in a way that would be impossible if the same film were to be made today. fantastic cinematography and suspense. sounds clichť, but it really is "edge of your sit" suspense here.


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Reply #11 on: April 24, 2014, 08:46:05 AM
Two different directors from different decade - hard to compare. Friedkin is a montage director with background in documentary. He doesn't write, he adopts and then creates films in editing room. He likes ambiguous endings, there is exploitation part to what he does and his films are often very bleak.

"Sorcerer" is pretty much a dozen of action sequences stitched together without much dialogue. There are no positive characters here: in Clouzot's version father of one of characters was murdered by Nazis, Friedkin introduces Nazi character that is hiding from justice - this is good example of contrast and bleakness. There is a lot of montage: truck repair scene is great example and Tangerine Dream is all over the place. Very different films overall.

If you looking for action film with a lot of tension or a film that is almost devoid of dialogue, "Sorcerer" is worth watching. It has its own quirks, but it is one of my favorites.
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Reply #12 on: April 24, 2014, 10:53:11 PM
For me, it handsomely fills the gap between Wages of Fear and Chill Factor.


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Reply #13 on: April 27, 2014, 06:22:22 AM
Thanks. Definitely watching it in the future. Interestingly, I don't believe I've seen The Wages of Fear either.

Anyway, fascinating stuff:


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Reply #14 on: April 30, 2014, 09:17:24 AM
Guys, Sorcerer was totally awesome.