I have long been a fan of William Friedkin’s movies. Sure he has made his share of turkeys, but they are not that great in number. And I have found a lot to like even among the films the critics have tended to beat on, like Jade. And even when he veers from films that have a Friedkin aura into more mainstream projects, like Rules of Engagement, I think he pulls them off quite well.
For some reason I don’t think he ever got the attention he deserved among the rising Young Turk directors of the 70s. He didn’t have Spielberg’s sunny optimism and way with audience affections. He didn’t have the art pretensions of Coppola. And he didn’t quite have the downscale genre affectations that would endear critics like Kael to directors like De Palma (Kael apparently didn’t like Friedkin or many of his films). But there is something of a Friedkin sensibility, and it runs off and on throughout the length of his career.
Here are a few scenes from three of his movies that seem to stick with me, and for similar reasons.
Take this scene from the underappreciated and truly great Sorcerer (1977). The film was a remake of the Clouzot classic The Wages of Fear, and the critics never warmed to even the idea of an American remake of a French classic. But it is a thrilling ride.
Some other director might add heroism and glory to the squalid proceedings but, fully in keeping with The Wages of Fear‘s existential roots, Friedkin makes no such concessions. It’s brutal all the way, with four hardened losers on the run, strangers to one another, running extremely dangerous explosives through the South American jungle to reach a blown-out oil rig. In the scene below, it’s near the end of the film and the harrowing journey, and two of the characters are just, just, just beginning to make human contact with one another. The way their conversation comes to an abrubt end is totally unsentimental and unromantic. Spielberg might have milked a scene like this for all it is worth in emotional terms, and the Bruckheimer version would be all razzle-dazzle, pumping music score and multiple explosions. Here it is cut-cut-boom that’s the way it goes. Scene around 1:41:35.
And here is the near-final scene in To Live and Die in LA. William Petersen, the main character, is a detective in LA. In standard genre style, he is a not-so-good guy up against even worse guys. So when he and the bad guys meet, he may learn a lesson but he’ll end up on top, usually in a blaze of glory, high drama and neat-o explosions. Right? Not so fast.
Also a very unsentimental, unromantic end. Cut-cut-bang and it’s over. In fact so quick and brutal that whoever put together the YouTube video above felt that need to show the shotgun blast to William Petersen several times over, following movie convention that if one explosion good many explosion better. But the Friedkin version in the film doesn’t feel the need to repeat the shot. Bang.
And think of poor Father Merrin. You’d think when you issue a command from God, it will be obeyed, Harry Potter style. Here, in The Exorcist, the chant “the power of Christ compels you!” does no such thing. Yes, Linda Blair settles eventually to the bed, but it is hard, hard work for the two priests, who cannot be certain what the outcome of their spell is likely to be.
All in all, a lot of good stuff. See Sorcerer if you have not already.