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THE FRIEDKIN CONNECTION
By WILLIAM FRIEDKIN (HarperCollins; 2013)

This isnít the greatest memoir by a film director Iíve ever read, but it is essential. The author, after all, is William Friedkin, helmer of some of the most interesting films of the past few decades. This overview of his life and films is fairly in-depth, if a bit incomplete: two of Friedkinís films, DEAL OF THE CENTURY and THE GUARDIAN, arenít mentioned at all, and nor is his direction of the 1977 Academy Awards telecast. Most disappointing of all, his legendary sexual exploits admittedly go unmentioned, ďlest the book be slapped with an NC-17 rating.Ē

     Friedkinís storytelling instincts, at least, are solid. He wisely limits the recollections of his impoverished childhood in uptown Chicago to just ten or so pages (boring childhood reminisces are a frequent autobiographical annoyance), quickly getting to the beginnings of his filmmaking career. Those beginnings took place in the world of episodic television in the late 1950s and early 60s, which led to Friedkinís first feature film, the impassioned death row documentary THE PEOPLE VS. PAUL CRUMP--a film he now claims ďreeks of its own incompetence.Ē From there he made several television documentaries and an episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS before directing his first non-documentary feature: the Sonny and Cher comedy misfire GOOD TIMES.

     His subsequent features THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKYíS and THE BOYS IN THE BAND werenít much more successful (financially at least). Friedkin is resolutely blunt and self-effacing about those early films, admitting he should have chosen better projects. He hit his stride, however, with THE FRENCH CONNECTION, which came together despite a lot of seemingly mismatched elements--including a leading man who wasnít Friedkinís first (or second, third or fourth) choice and a villain who was chosen by mistake--and set the stage for the dark and provocative filmmaking that would become Friedkinís trademark. This was followed by THE EXORCIST, which despite a stormy production became Friedkinís most famous and financially successful work.

     In keeping with the frankness displayed throughout this book, Friedkin admits he was overtaken by hubris in the wake of THE EXORCISTíS success. He lavished a massive $20 million (a mighty pricey sum back in the seventies) on SORCERER, a staunchly uncommercial effort with no redeeming characters yet, Friedkin concedes, ďI thought an audience would see the film simply because I made it.Ē That wasnít the case, as SORCERER was a critical and financial flop which led to a lengthy period of self-doubt and several more flops.

     Things picked up, unexpectedly enough, in the late 1990s, when Friedkin was asked to stage an opera in Italy. The resulting production of Alban Bergís WOZZECK was a huge success, and led to Friedkin directing several more operas. Despite persistent health problems he also managed to revive his flagging film career with RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, THE HUNTED and the nervy independent films BUG and KILLER JOE. The latter was released in 2012 with the dreaded NC-17 rating, proving that Friedkin, now well into his seventies, has lost none of his edge.

     There are plenty more tantalizing tidbits here, including a claim that Al Pacino was lazy and unprepared when making Friedkinís 1980 film CRUISING and an unnerving description of an early 1980s heart attack. Yet itís the unblinking honesty with which William Friedkin examines his life that resonates most. Iíd say THE FRIEDKIN CONNECTION is much like William Friedkinís best films: tough, intense and very difficult to look away from.

     

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