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Want To Know More About The Exorcist And The French Connection? Read William Friedkin’s Memoir

Abhishek Srivastava - 29 weeks ago

The memoir of William Friedkin, the man behind films like The French Connection, The Exorcist and Sorcerer is an honest account of the crests and troughs of his career. Director Friedkin’s autobiography The Friedkin Connection is one of those rare honest account which is fulfilling after its read.

(Cover of William Friedkin's memoir)

That William Friedkin is an extremely bad judge of future is made clear in the very first page of his memoir. Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat had sent him few acrylic and spray painted works on paper in an envelope as gift to the director as he greatly admired his work, they were immediately relegated to the nearest waste paper basket. Music artist Prince had requested him to direct his music video for newly launched MTV, but he turned down the offer because his music did not appeal to him. He gave away ownership stake in Mike Tyson when he was just discovered and last but not the least he squandered away an opportunity to produce Star Wars only because the story was incomprehensible to him. This also sets the tone of his memoir – The Friedkin Connection – an honest review of his career and work. 

The Friedkin Connection is a no holds barred memoir which apart from giving an insight into the thoughts and functioning of the director, also gives a glimpse of the way Hollywood operated during the 70s. The memoir was published in 2013 and his views on the current status on the nature of Star Wars films is sorely missed which gained traction with JJ Abrams coming on board and Disney’s own OTT platform Disney Plus. Friedkin had a career which saw success at a very early stage. The golden phase lasted for only few years and then it was a downhill until an offer from conductor Jubin Mehta to direct operas resuscitated his career. 

(Best Actress Jane Fonda (Klute) flanked by The French Connection winners Philip DAntoni (Best Picture), Gene Hackman (Best Actor), and William Friedkin (Best Director) at the 44th Oscar Awards ceremony)

He also mentions in great details about directors of the that era. Alfred Hitchcock had once chided him for not wearing a suit while on the job. Hitchcock believed that every director should come wearing tie on their sets. The very next year William Friedkin took his own sweet revenge during the Oscar ceremony when he was awarded the best director for The French Connection. When he bumped into the director post the ceremony, he quipped by saying, “How do you like the tie, Hitch?”

A major portion of his memoir is dedicated to the best known films of his career – The French Connection, The Exorcist and Sorcerer. He mentions in great detail the genesis of both The French Connection and The Exorcist. He recalls the time when Gene Hackman was not his original choice and wanted Steve McQueen for the role. Friedkin was crazy about signing the superstar because of the chase sequence he had performed in Bullit. He also mentions that it was not exactly a joyful experience working with Gene and on more than one occasion, the actor almost walked out of the film. He mentions that the he could manage to elicit a great performance from Gene only by challenging his inner demons. 

(Linda Blair, William Friedkin, and Barton Heyman in a still from The Exorcist)

Friedkin, is great at building stories related to both his blockbusters. Had he not mentioned the truth about the potency level of one of Blake Edward’s script, The Exorcist might not have happened. The meeting with Blake Edwards gave him an opportunity to meet William Peter Blatty, the man who penned The Exorcist. He also mentions about the selection of Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn and Jason Miller and the tiff he had with the makers of the film – Warner Bros. The most interesting aspect of the portion that relate to The Exorcist part is the passage in which he recalls shooting the film in Iraq at a time when US had no diplomatic relationship with Iraq. The task of making a 6ft statute of demon Pazuzu in the US was an onerous task and then shipping the same to Iraq another. 

It’s evident that Sorcerer is the film that remains closest to his heart. He has no qualms in admitting that it was his overconfidence that led to the film’s failure. Right from casting of the film to its release -  nothing went his way. He still regrets the failure of the film and believes he owes apology to the cast of the film. Friedkin had originally intended to sign Steve McQueen, Marcello Mastroianni and Lino Ventura for the film. McQueen had even expressed his desire to act in the film but he insisted that his wife too be made part of the film. Later he approached Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson for the film but none of them were interested in shooting the film in Ecuador (the location was later shifted to Dominican Republic). Though Sorcerer was a much anticipated film as it was coming after The Exorcist but its box office prospects were severely butchered by Star Wars which released a week later. 

(Roy Scheider in a still from Sorcerer)  

It’s surprising that readers will have to go past page 400 to read any substance on his personal affair. Nothing is mentioned in the book about his three wives but he mentions in detail about his current wife of more than 25 years – Sherry Lansing. He also mentions in great detail about the operas which he later on directed despite having no knowledge of the classical performance. The Friedkin Connection is an honest account of a director who knows how to measure his professional career though the same can’t be said about his professional life as much of it is kept under wraps in the book. The reflection of Friedkin’s life has parallels with his debut documentary - The People vs Paul Crump -  which shot him to fame. When he shot the documentary he believed that Paul was an innocent man but in the later part of his life he was of the view that he indeed was guilty. It’s sad that Friedkin was simply unable to replicate the charisma of his first three films, which had made him a darling of the masses.

Tags

William Friedkin / The French Connection / The Exorcist / Sorcerer / Opera / Alfred Hitchcock / Jubin Mehta

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