Do Two Great Films Make a Life?
One hand, holding a pair of glasses, covers the bottom half of his face. William Friedkin lets us know with the photo that he won’t be revealing his whole self in this memoir. That’s okay. He can keep all the gossip on his failed marriages and his other non-cinematic to himself. The important thing is that he shares great stories about his filmmaking career.
The cover also blurbs, “Legendary Director of The French Connection and The Exorcist”. Really, those are the two films that people will always associate with the director, his hugely commercial and critically acclaimed hits. And there are great stories about those. Friedkin admits he wasn’t thrilled with the selection of Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle for “The French Connection” and that even through production he wasn’t sure if the performance that eventually won an Oscar would be adequate. He cops to breaking laws and endangering lives to film the famous car/train chase in the day before CGI. He recounts his battles and feuds with “Exorcist” William Blatty over the horror film’s content and with voice actress Mercedes McCambridge over the film’s credits. (There are also wonderful anecdotes about what the actress went through to achieve her demonic tone; after years in AA, and with council from clergy, she glutted on cigarettes, Jack Daniels and raw eggs.)
But Friedkin’s less successful films provide good stories as well; his encounters with basketball legends in the making of “Blue Chips”, the production shut down over Al Pacino’s too short haircut for “Cruising”, Friedkin’s passing of counterfeit bills that were props for “To Live and Die in L.A.”, and many other fun tales from even lesser films. I also enjoyed his stories about his second career directing opera.
Friedkin admits to his arrogance, temper and other personal failings. He gives some details about his struggles with health and even faith. He never gives his whole self, but refreshingly doesn’t claim to.
Discussing near death experiences, he wonders whether he his life had meaning. In my mind, he isn’t one of the great directors. Film makers such as Akira Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and contemporaries like Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg and the Coen Brothers have made a number of masterpieces over decades of work. Friedkin has two masterpieces made over a couple of years in the early seventies. But that ain’t too shabby. (Though he is also responsible for the awful travesty entitled “Deal of the Century” with Chevy Chase and Gregory Hines, one of the films I most regretted paying to see. He does not discuss the making of this film.)