The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir
Director William Friedkin tells many good stories, if few great ones. That knack manifested itself in his career, which produced two epochal cinema classics in 1971's The French Connection and 1973's The Exorcist, and a subsequent string of noble failures, middling thrillers, and interesting experiments. It also defines his sober new memoir of his life and career.
Unlike many of his New American Cinema peers of the 1970s, Friedkin never attended a day of film school. A poor Jewish kid from Chicago, Friedkin learned how to direct by hustling his way up through live television in the Windy City in the 1950s. Galvanized by Citizen Kane, his artistic ambition drove him toward feature-length TV documentaries, then Hollywood, then his big break-directing a now-forgotten quickie flick launched to cash in on the then-crowning stardom of ersatz hippie duo Sonny and Cher. Friedkin seems as surprised as anyone else that his projects, fraught and failed as they were commercially and critically, kept raising his profile until he was hired to make a low-budget true-crime thriller.
Much of The Friedkin Connection focuses on the making of the gritty blockbuster that inspired the memoir's title and the horror-redefining second half of his name-making one-two punch. Any film nerd hungry for stories of golden-age post-studio Hollywood adventure and excess will be sated. Gene Hackman fumbling and nearly failing to find the character of cop/thug Popeye Doyle. Friedkin operating a camera himself in the padded backseat of a car blasting through the not-closed-to-traffic streets of Coney Island for The French Connection's bar-setting chase sequence. A small crew spending weeks and bags of money in remote pre-Saddam northern Iraq to capture a single scene for The Exorcist.
Friedkin's forthrightness extends to his account of the making of Sorcerer, the dour international adventure/thriller on which he squandered all his back-to-back-blockbuster chips. When it was a massive flop, he became the first of the Hollywood young Turks to flame out. From there, The Friedkin Connection slogs through a few foreshortened decades of disappointments and oddball projects (e.g. directing opera), though Friedkin's personal life-tracked here in a PG cut alongside his career ins and outs-stabilized, to his evident gratitude.
Friedkin's career and rep are currently on the mend as well: Recent indie films Bug and Killer Joe have won praise, and he's shepherding the unfairly maligned Sorcerer through restoration and re-release. But the relative unpretentiousness of his current print project backfires on him in the end. He makes so few claims to his own superiority or genius that you eventually have no choice but to agree with him. Good, not great.