Monday, October 11, 2010

Shocktober Director of the Day: William Friedkin

William Friedkin has really only made one Horror movie. But what a Horror movie it was (even if I personally consider it one of the most overrated movies of all time)! And I'll get to it in a moment.

Friedkin's first film was 1967's Good Times, Sonny and Cher's attempt to cash in on what the Beatles had already been doing for a while. The following year he made two films, the practically forgotten The Birthday Party and the hilarious burlesque comedy The Night They Raided Minskey's.  It would be three years before his next film, an adaptation of Mart Crowley's seminal gay play The Boys in the Band. Exceptionally frank for it's time, The Boys in the Band is now widely considered a stereotypical view of what it meant to be gay at the time. I've always found both the play and the movie to be a rather sad comment on how gay men were perceived 40 years ago, even among themselves.

Of course, Friedkin's big break came in 1971 with the Gene Hackman drug-drama The French Connection. Friedkin won a Golden Globe, a DGA Award and an Oscar for Best Director and was at the height of his career. 

Then came what many people still consider to be 'the scariest movie ever made,' 1973's The Exorcist. Based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, Friedkin's film about a little girl possessed by a demon named Pazzuzu had audiences puking, fainting and lining up for blocks. It turned actress Linda Blair into a household name and galvanized religious leaders across the globe in their fight against Satan. The special makeup effects by Dick Smith were revolutionary at the time and stories abound about the production being plagued by a host of unexplained problems. Still, it was critically hailed. Even my devoutly Catholic grandmother announced it a "wonderful picture... but not for children." I desperately wanted to see it, but at 12 years-old (there I go, giving my age away again), I was too young. I did get to see it six years later upon it's 1979 re-release, by which time I had already formed my opinions about God, the devil and religion, and the film's impact was greatly reduced.

In 2000, The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Scene was released, featuring this rather infamous scene cut from the original 1973 version:

Friedkin never again saw the kind of success that The Exorcist brought him, though 1980's Cruising courted controversy once again as Friedkin made his second foray into the 'gay experience." Al Pacino stars as a cop assigned to find a killer who is targeting gay men. Denounced as homophobic by the gay community and perverse by the so-called Religious Right, Cruising is probably best observed as a comment on the free-wheeling days before AIDS, while still managing to be a not particularly good movie. Set in leather bars, porn shops and dark alleys, Cruising also stars Karen Allen (who would shortly go on to gain movie immortality in a little film called Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Paul Sorvino. Personally, I never understood the disdain for this movie, other than it's not really very good. Lately, there has been a push for a "Director's Cut" version, though I for one, hardly think it's necessary (unless of course, it redeems the whole mess and makes for an actually good film).

Friedkin's most recent film, 2007's Bug, based on the Tracy Letts play of the same name, is a psychological thriller about two people sharing psychoses in a motel room. While the play itself works as a disturbing look into the minds of two very disturbed people, Friedkin's rather literal film is less than successful. Truth be told, Uncle P was very disappointed to find himself falling asleep while watching the movie version of a play he'd found so electrifying on stage.

Friedkin has never matched the success of The Exorcist and based on the films he's made since, I doubt he ever will. 

More, anon.

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