The Friedkin Connection : A Memoir
By William Friedkin
Quick! Name a film directed by William Friedkin. Did you think of The Exorcist first? I usually do.
This self penned tale of his own journey growing up in Chicago through the early days of directing live television and on to an Academy Award career is never boring and I enjoyed the honesty that Mr. Friedkin puts on the written page about his own films featuring both the mistakes and successes he experienced on his rise to the upper levels of the Hollywood hierarchy.
By a chance meeting in 1960, his career path began through the world of documentaries resulting in an award winning story titled The People versus Paul Crump. The end result was a stay of execution for the inmate/subject of the story convicted on what appears to be questionable evidence. A few more documentaries followed for television network fodder before an opportunity came to direct one of the final Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes leading to a cold confrontation with Hitch and a last laugh for Friedkin in the near future.
Good Times starring Sonny Bono and Cher proved to be his debut as a feature motion picture director. The result was a box office dud as was his next film though he seems quite proud of his work on The Birthday Party from playwright Harold Pinter released in 1968 starring Robert Shaw. His next film didn’t do much for his career yet again, The Night They Raided Minksy’s. Friedkin writes up a fair bit of information on all these productions for the trivia buffs. Just around the corner is the breakthrough film, The French Connection. A classic case of what appears to be plenty of mix-ups resulting in a smash hit and the Academy Award.
Roy Sheider was cast instantly but it was the Popeye Doyle character that was giving the production problems. Peter Boyle, was sought after but declined which led to the name of Gene Hackman tossed about. He signed on but it was far from an overnight revelation that Gene was going to be giving an Oscar winning performance. He actually wanted to pull out. How about Fernando Rey arriving in America to film his role by mistake. He wasn’t the actor that Friedkin wanted for the role but a mix up in discussions and names of foreign films and actors found Rey on set. The iconic car chase and the studio fights that lay ahead are all in here. This film sent Friedkin to the top of the Hollywood pecking order and the result was his involvement in bringing The Exorcist to the screen.
Through an ironic encounter with William Peter Blatty in the 60’s during a tense meeting with Blake Edwards, Blatty later sought Friedkin out to direct his novel for the big screen in the 70’s. For fans of both the French Connection and The Exorcist, these are two chapters that are really must reads. From writing the script to casting Audrey Hepburn in the lead role are all included in the story telling from the director himself. The chance encounter with Lee J. Cobb and leaving Stacy Keach on the sidelines after firmly deciding that Jason Miller was the right man for the role of Father Karras. Where can one find a young girl to play such a key role? The F/X, Mercedes McCambridge and scoring the film. Plenty of back scenes data to be processed for us self appointed film historians. Grab the book and discover for yourselves the rest of the adventure that continued to drive the Friedkin name upwards.
The only other films discussed at great length are the ones that sent his career spiraling downwards. First up, Sorcerer. It starred Roy Scheider and seems like it was an attempt for Friedkin to film his very own Werner Herzog like tale of crazed jungle trek. I for one like the film and it’s downbeat story. As the years have passed by, I think it’s picked up a fair bit of steam in being reevaluated. Next came the ill fated Cruising. A film I’ve yet to see starring Al Pacino. The only two films that don’t merit mention at all seem to be Deal of The Century and The Guardian. Seen The Guardian but recall Deal of the Century getting bashed upon release.
Aside from films, Friedkin has seemingly turned into a successful director of Operas. Who’d have guessed? Friedkin least of all. A good read that doesn’t dwell on failed marriages and the like. The story sticks to the professional career for the most part culminating towards the final stanza with the love of his life, Sherry Lansing. Near the fade out he talks of his recent thriller Killer Joe. A film I honestly didn’t “get”. I guess I missed the point of it all and the humor as well. If there was any. Let’s just say it wasn’t to my liking.
An enjoyable read where the director recants many fun tales of both the good times and the bad.