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William Friedkin (1935-2023) Master Film Director

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William Friedkin, the Oscar-winning director who brought chilling intensity to two generational touchstones of the 1970s, the gritty police drama “The French Connection” and the demonic-possession freakout “The Exorcist,” died Aug. 7 at 87.




His commercial breakout was “The French Connection” (1971), a low-budget crime drama starring the relatively unknown Gene Hackman as a New York police detective on the trail of a heroin shipment.  Determined to enhance the routine police procedural he’d been handed, Mr. Friedkin executed one of the most harrowing chase sequences ever filmed as Hackman’s character, driving through actual Brooklyn traffic, chases a suspect aboard an elevated subway train.


Beyond capturing panic in the streets with cinéma-vérité flourishes, the film was an exploration of moral ambiguity. Hackman’s dirty, racist cop, with all his flaws, is contrasted with a debonair and elusive drug kingpin, played by Spanish actor Fernando Rey.  “The French Connection,” which the American Film Institute ranks among the top 100 movies, unexpectedly won five Oscars, including for best picture, best director and best actor (awarded to Hackman).


Mr. Friedkin followed with “The Exorcist” (1973), which broke ground in the horror genre with (literally) head-spinning sacrilege and bloodcurdling violence perpetrated against an innocent child and all who attempt to help her. Film critic Roger Ebert admiringly called it “exploitation of the most fearsome resources of the cinema.”  With a cast headed by Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow and newcomer Linda Blair as the possessed girl, it became one of the highest-earning movies of all time and the first horror drama to earn an Academy Award nomination for best picture. Mr. Friedkin also received a nomination for his directing.

Mr. Friedkin’s back-to-back triumphs afforded him carte blanche in Hollywood.


“I had come from a one-room apartment in Chicago to the finest hotel suites in the world, first-class air travel, the finest tables in the best restaurants, beautiful women who sought my company, top of the line all the way,” he wrote in his 2013 memoir, “The Friedkin Connection.”


But his rapid ascent to the top of Hollywood’s directing ranks was followed by a succession of high-profile flops, including the action film “Sorcerer” (1977) and the murder mystery “Cruising” (1980). Gay rights groups protested the latter, starring Al Pacino as a cop going undercover in same-sex bars, as an offensive portrayal of gay life.


Mr. Friedkin’s diminished reputation was not helped, he conceded, by his bridge-burning attitude toward studio executives and his ruthless treatment of people on set. He said he would do anything — he would belittle to even slap an actor — to achieve greater urgency on-screen. He recalled slapping a real priest who appeared in “The Exorcist” and who failed to come through with convincing tears.


His actions, he explained in his autobiography, were motivated by a drive for artistry and status. “I embody arrogance, insecurity and ambition that spur me on as they hold me back,” he wrote. “My character flaws remain for the most part unhealed. There’s no point in saying I’ll work on them.”



Edited by Principled Man
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Me and my buddies drove into NYC in 1973 to see The Exorcist opening night.  


I was home from college and living in my parent's basement so coming home at 2am and going into the basement was a tough one. 


It was scary as hell back them and it seems comical now.



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On 8/10/2023 at 4:43 PM, chemistry1973 said:

I watched Sorcerer recently.


f**k, what a good movie that is.

I consider myself a fairly well informed person when it comes to 70s cinema - it is my favourite era of film - but I swear I only learned after Friedkin's death what Sorcerer is about!  I had assumed somehow, for many, many years, that it was a supernatural thriller involving some sort of...well, sorcery. (I remember Siskel & Ebert's hilarious review of Friedkin's 90s film The Guardian, which involves a possessed evil tree - hahaha.). I honestly don't know how a clip or image of Sorcerer had never ever crossed my path, but when I read his obit and it mentioned the plot of Sorcerer, I really thought they had messed up the title for another film of his.  I'm still in shock over it.:laugh:


And I wanna see it. 

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Definitely an old-school director, but came out with some truly awesome films, of which the very much under-rated "The Sorcerer" ranks highly.

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