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.
I think of The French Connection first for a few reasons, lol. To be explained one day on the site. Sorcerer I’ve loved since I first saw it, so we’re in sync there. Crusin’ is brusin’ viewing, but should be seen if you get the chance. Deal of the Century is weird to me, but it my be that Friedkin is better at the dramatic than comedic stuff…
He’s been directing for years but French and Exorcist trump everything that followed in the popularity dept. I don’t even know if Cruisin is out on DVD. Never look for it but never noticed it either way. I know it got attacked pretty heavily and the chapter on it isn’t pretty in the book.
I am going to read this book because of your enthusiastic review of the the man’s work. He definitely directed a few classics and a few not so classics.
I hope you find it worth the time as I did. When I’m reading the bios of film history, it’s obviously easier if you know the characters…. meaning many of the real life people included within.
I agree…love reading the bios of the real people too!
Sounds like a fascinating book — I may well give it a whirl.
I think (my memory may be wrong) that The Birthday Party did very well in the UK.
Did he talk about Killer Joe (2011)?
I really enjoyed sharing his journey with him on the written page. He seemed very proud of The Birthday Party but gave me the impression audiences stayed away in general. He goes into Killer Joe and it’s gestation period, casting etc and of course it’s notoriety due to some scenes. Did you like it? I like the fact that he stuck to the central story of his career, no trashing ex wives or lovers…. they don’t even get mentioned so I looked up his status on IMDB only to find he’d been married to Lesley Anne Down and Jeanne Moreau.
I tried as hard as I could to like Killer Joe and couldn’t: it’s a trainwreck. The one fantastic piece of cinema in it is Gina Gershon’s appearance at the trailer door — not because of the rudery but simply because it’s an amazing coup de theatre — knocked me sideways. But so much of the restof it was just exploitation/sensationalism for exploitation/sensationalism’s sake. There are so many good rural neonoirs around; this, I felt, wasn’t one of them.
In a nutshell. 🙂
As I say in the post…. killer Joe wasn’t to my liking and I’ve steered people away from it. I came away feeling nauseous that I actually stayed with it to the end. I remember looking forward to it and in the end wondering what the heck was all the hype about that if I recall was being bandied about.
I don’t usually part with many of my films but I actually traded my blu ray in. Knew I’d never watch it again.
In my usual unawareness of popular trends, I hadn’t known there was “all the hype about” it, but obviously we’re on the same page. By the time Pam and I got to Matthew McConaughey’s Kentucky Fried Chicken blowjob scene, we were both trying to stick our heads down the back of the couch cushions. A bad place to upchuck, as we kept reminding each other.
I think I pretty much had the same experience…. still feeling nauseous just recalling the scene.