Friday, August 30, 2013

Make "The Friedkin Connection"

William Friedkin, the talented director behind such films The Exorcist (1973) & To Live & Die in L.A. (1985), has recently published his autobiography, The Friedkin Connection. It’s a great read about his life in the movie business. He sticks to discussing his professional career, after a brief history of his formative years in the book’s early pages. Starting out as a director of documentaries & television shows, Friedkin charts his path working on films like The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968) & the 1967 Sonny & Cher vehicle Good Times. He’s open about the his frustrating experiences on these early projects, which were not very successful. Then we get to his Oscar winning classics The French Connection & The Exorcist. The bulk of the book focuses on these two films; Friedkin goes into great detail about the productions, and the challenges he faced making both films. For The French Connection, he was still considered a newcomer, even though he had directed several films previously, and faced numerous battles with studio heads over the film’s budget & shooting schedule. On The Exorcist, there were numerous bumps in the road in bringing the novel to the screen, including dealing with the controversial subject matter, and getting the right cast & crew together. There are fascinating behind the scenes details about both movies. These stories are the best parts of the book, and offer real insight into the moviemaking process.

Friedkin is candid about his successes & failures, and owns up to his own faults when relationships with his collaborators turned out badly. Another film extensively covered is 1977’s Sorcerer, an expensive remake of the classic French film The Wages of Fear (1953), which spiraled over budget & out of control during production. It later flopped at the box office, though it has had a bit of a critical re-evaluation in recent years. There’s also a section on the controversial film Cruising (1980), a murder mstery set in the world of gay sex clubs, which starred Al Pacino. Despite his candor, there’s no mention of two notorious failures, Deal of The Century (1983) and  The Guardian (1990), both of which were troubled productions that turned out badly. One weakness of the book is that there’s less focus on the second half of Friedkin’s career; his later films are given much shorter shrift, though there are still some interesting anecdotes, especially regarding To Live & Die in L.A. What some readers may find surprising is that Friedkin later had success directing operas, collaborating with the likes of Placido Domingo. In the final portions of the book he does talk about his home life, discussing some personal health issues & his fourth marriage, to studio head Sherry Lansing. A few more words about his personal life would have been welcome, since he’s very open about it in this portion of his life story. He also focuses on two recent film projects, both based on plays by Tracy Letts, Bug (2006) and Killer Joe (2011). This is a well-written, honest & entertaining read, especially if you’re a fan of Friedkin’s work as a director.

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