A Conversation with William Friedkin

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Yet another standing room only crowd in Club TCM for A Conversation with William Friendkin, interviewed by Film Noir Foundation President and author Eddie Muller! A veteran of live television in the 1950s, Friedkin trained in documentary filmmaking in the mid-1960s – training that led to the unnerving, you-are-there realism of The French Connection (1971) and the terrible beauty of The Exorcist (1973) and Sorcerer (1977). In 1971, his The French Connection was released to wide critical acclaim. Shot in a gritty style more suited for documentaries than Hollywood features, the film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.  Friedkin followed up with 1973′s The Exorcist, which was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. It won for Best Screenplay and Best Sound. He has also directed such searing action films as Rules Of Engagement (2000) and The Hunted (2003); Bug (2006) and his most recent film, Killer Joe (2012) starring Matthew McConaughey and Emile Hirsch. Here are some highlights:

  • On casting Linda Blair: “She wasn’t beautiful, but adorable. Very intelligent which is what I look for in an actor – and an audience (the crowd rolls) she’d never acted before. I said, ‘Linda do you know what this film is about?’ She said it’s about a girl who does bad things. ‘Things like what?’ ‘She slaps her mother and masturbates with a crucifix.’ I looked at her mom, who was still smiling. I said ‘Do you know what that means?’ Linda said ‘It’s like jerking off.” I asked if she’d ever done that, and she said ‘Sure, haven’t you?’ So I cast her, because I knew the material wouldn’t disturb her.”
  • “I came out of the theatre (after seeing Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941)) and decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
  • The French Connection I set out to make it like a documentary. It’s was a new thing – especially to have a good cop and a bad cop. He was obsessive and only wanted to get the bad guy. But the bad guy in the film was more of a gentleman than the cop! That was interesting to me.”
  • “For me the films that changed cinema isn’t The French Connection. Birth of a Nation (1915) first major epic film that cost a lot of money at the time and was a huge hit. And then next Citizen Kane. And Breathless in 1960. The effect of that film has reverberated to television today. Next was Easy Rider (1969). It should that you could make a film in a totally new way, with a bunch of hippies and still make a hit. Lastly, Star Wars (1977), you wouldn’t have the majority of films you have now, without Star Wars.”
  • Muller : “Of course you have a connection to Star Wars, because it opened the same week as your master piece Sorcerer.” Friedkin: “What, you think that’s funny?! Look at these pants. I should be in a Brooks Brothers suit!”
  • Sorcerer is the only film I wouldn’t change a frame of. Others, I would change a line, a shot, casting. But not Sorcerer.”