Director’s Chair Introduction : William Friedkin

by Tony Cogan · October 7, 2019 · Director's Chair · No Comments

Deadline: 2nd November 2019

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Hello everyone, it’s time to reveal the highlighted director for October’s Director’s Chair and, for Halloween, I like to highlight a director who helped bring more attention to horror and this year I’ve decided to go for the director of The Exorcist, William Friedkin.

Friedkin got his start in the film world on TV doing live TV and documentaries, including The People vs Paul Crump, which helped commute the sentence of Crump and got Friekdin the attention of David L Wolper, whom he made several documentaries for and also led to him directing an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock hour. Moving into films, Friedkin made a film with Sonny and Cher, an adaptation of Harold Pinter and a musical tribute to burlesque. However, Friedkin wanted to make more action and drama based films about what he viewed as the crime and amorality of America at the time. Friedkin achieved this with The French Connection. The French Connection helped to establish Friedkin as one of the main members of the so-called New Hollywood movement of the 70s, winning 5 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director and also known for having one of the best car chases on film, with the realism factor helped through the fact it was shot on the streets of New York without a permit, meaning there was a real danger of a car crash.

Friedkin’s status was further raised with The Exorcist, considered one of the greatest horror films ever made and the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture. On set, Friedkin was focused on eliciting genuine reactions from the cast, including yanking around Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair in harnesses, firing blanks to elicit shock from Jason Miller and installing a freezer in the bedroom set so the breath of Jason Miller and Max von Sydow would be visible on camera.

After The Exorcist, Friedkin established The Directors Company with Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich but left before making a film with the company. His films after that were not as successful as The French Connection and The Exorcist. Most notable of these was Sorcerer, a remake of The Wages of Fear, which Friedkin considers to be his best film, but was overshadowed by being released the week after Star Wars. After another financial disappointment with The Brink’s Job, Friedkin made one of his more controversial films with Cruising, which was protested against during production and is still the subject of debate for the depiction of the gay leather bar scene of the time.

In the 80s and 90s, most of Friedkin’s films were not critical or commercial successes, with Friedkin continuing to do TV work, including an episode of the 80s Twilight Zone, an episode of Tales From the Crypt and the 1997 version of 12 Angry Men, alongside having some success with a re-release of The Exorcist with additional footage, most famously the spider-walk scene.

In the 2000s, Friedkin’s success was more hit and miss. Whilst Rules of Engagement was a moderate box office success but was plagued by accusations of racism, whilst The Hunted was unfavourably compared to First Blood. Following those, Friedkin had more critical success adapting Tracey Letts’ plays Bug and Killer Joe, although Killer Joe was the subject of a ratings dispute as the MPAA rated in NC-17, which pretty much killed the commercial prospects of the film, with the rating being surrendered and released unrated, with Friedkin stating that cutting the film to get an R rating would have destroyed it.

Recently, Friedkin has gone back to the world of exorcisms with his documentary The Devil and Father Amorth, about a real life exorcist, working with film critic Mark Kermode, whose favourite film is The Exorcist, to write the script for the voiceovers. At the moment, this is the last film of Friedkin’s, with no future films planned.

  • Good Times
  • The Birthday Party
  • The Night They Raided Minsky’s
  • The Boys in the Band
  • The French Connection
  • The Exorcist
  • Sorcerer
  • The Brink’s Job
  • Crusing
  • Deal of the Century
  • To Live and Die in LA
  • Rampage
  • The Guardian
  • Blue Chips
  • Jade
  • Rules of Engagement
  • The Hunted
  • Bug
  • Killer Joe
  • The Devil and Father Amorth