These past two weekends I was treated to a series of movies by William Friedkin at the Harvard Film Archive. I had heard of his movies (like The Exorcist, The French Connection) but had not seen them. In fact I had no idea who William Friedkin was until two weeks ago.
I have been very late in coming to appreciate this master director, but I'm so happy to view his films for the first time as an adult. I don't think I would have appreciated the grittiness and the rawness of Sorcerer as a thirteen year-old (Sorcerer was released in 1977). At the time I was more interested in idealized depictions of reality as found in historical romances and not the almost obscene depictions of poverty and squalor. Sorcerer is in essence a road picture where four men in desperate circumstances sign up to deliver 6 cases of nitro glycerine via truck through the Central Americal jungle. There is very little dialogue, but every scene communicates volumes.
In The French Connection, which was shown in Blu-Ray -- Billy Friedkin explodes the police procedural genre. It is essentially about the cat-and-mouse interplay between the cops and the dope kingpins, and also about the thin line that separates the two. The car chase scene with the subway train holds up very well, even in comparison to modern standards. And to think that it was all done mechanically -- it boggles the mind.
To Live and Die In L.A. captures the 80s zeitgeist. During the 80s, LA was the cultural capital of the world and LA style was ubiquitous. The movie was drenched in LA style. To Live and Die in LA is at once psychologically probing and at the same time highly action oriented. I also loved seeing William Peterson in his youth -- what a bad-ass. My one bone to pick with the movie involves the choice of offset printing as the means by which the Willem Dafoe character counterfeits US currency. From what I've seen in other movies, the highest grade counterfeits are produced by engraving, which is how real US currency is printed. I'm just saying.
In addition to seeing these movies, Billy Friedkin was also present to talk about his movies and take a few questions from the audience. He is quite the raconteur. His behind-the-scenes stories are so rivetting. For instance he openly talks about his failure to get Steve McQueen to play the lead in Sorcerer because he would not accommodate Steve McQueen's demands/conditions. I think it's just as well that Roy Scheider got the part.
I intend to get Billy Friedkin's filmography and spend a few afternoons and evenings marvelling at hitherto (at least in my case) unexamined gems. Thank you, Billy Friedkin! I love your work!