Director William Friedkin captures all the ups and downs of his distinguished film career in his thoroughly enjoyable, honest and engaging memoir, The Friedkin Connection. As he says, "I never played by the rules, often to my own detriment."
A Chicago lad, Friedkin was a loser with no future until he got a job in television out of high school, working his way up to director. It was only after he saw Citizen Kane, though, that he realized he wanted to direct films. In 1967 he got his first shot: Sonny and Cher's Good Times. Three more followed before his breakthrough picture, The French Connection--which almost didn't happen, then won him a directing Oscar (as well as Best Picture). The famous chase scene, he says, was "all in my mind’s eye" before he shot a single frame.
Friedkin was author William Peter Blatty's choice to direct The Exorcist. He explains in fascinating detail how they filmed the terrifying exorcism scenes. Then the magic moved out, and hubris moved in. Of his next picture, Sorcerer, he says, "I felt I made a great film." Given carte blanche to remake the classic The Wages of Fear, he spent $1 million to build a suspension bridge over a raging South American river for a key scene--and the river dried up. They took the bridge apart and rebuilt it over another river; that river dried up, too. "It turned out to be the most difficult, frustrating, and dangerous film I've ever made," Friedkin confesses, "and it took a toll on my health as well as my reputation." He chides himself for being callous and self-involved, and his subsequent films became more obsessive, darker, less audience-friendly.
In 1985, To Live and Die in L.A. came, with an even more amazing chase scene than The French Connection: "There may be better chase sequences in films," Friedkin says, "but few as elaborate." (The "best chase scene I've ever directed," though, "and the most difficult to realize is the one in Jade.") As for his most recent film, 2011's Killer Joe, he believes it will be a long time "before anyone makes another film as provocative and controversial."
Filled with insights into the art of film and its practitioners and honest assessments of his work--and the work of others in the film industry--this is terrific stuff. After reading it, you'll be anxious to see all the Friedkin movies you've missed. --Tom Lavoie
Shelf Talker: Sit down with William Friedkin and he'll tell you about his life making films his way--and why Sonny Bono was one of the few geniuses he ever met.