Saturday, November 16, 2019

Friedkin Uncut: The Exorcist, The French Connection, Etc.

William Friedkin directed the scariest film of all time and he also survived some of the scariest flops in Hollywood history. Two of the latter, Sorcerer and Cruising have enjoyed an appreciative critical reappraisal in the years since their release (but Jade, not so much). All in all, it is quite a career for the filmmaker and his colleagues to reflect on throughout Francesco Zippel’s Friedkin Uncut, which is currently playing in Los Angeles.

When Friedkin first sits down with Zippel and a cup of black coffee, he offers up an extended riff on how Jesus and Hitler are such intriguing characters because of the extremes they represent. This is the sort of material we would expect from a pretentious English major, but once he settles down, Friedkin has plenty of entertaining anecdotes to relate. Wisely, Zippel devotes the most time to The Exorcist and The French Connection, for obvious reasons. Both films were blockbuster hits in the early 1970s, whose power remains utterly undiminished with the passage of years.

Sorcerer and Cruising probably get the next most screen time after his Oscar-winning classics, partly because of the colorfully chaotic stories making-of stories and partly because so many critics and colleagues have come to respect them, especially the former. Again, this totally makes historical and aesthetic sense. To Live and Die in L.A. also gets its due, since it is a good film and introduced most movie-goers to Willem Dafoe and William Peterson. Plus, we see a fair amount of Friedkin promoting his latest, the real-life exorcism documentary The Devil and Father Amorth, but that gives the film an opportunity to revisit his 1973 masterwork again.

Strangely, Rampage and the financial misadventures that kept in shelved for years go unmentioned. Likewise, the roundly reviled Jade is scrupulously ignored, even though Friedkin himself has defended in the past. Frankly, it is always disappointing when these filmmaker profile-docs do not have its subject dish on the dogs in their filmography (seriously, Friedkin probably has some interesting things to say about Deal of the Century).

Regardless, Friedkin is sufficiently candid and animated to hold the audience’s interest, even if they aren’t already fans or friends. Quentin Tarantino is enthusiastic, as always, but somewhat less annoying than usual in his talking head sequences. We also hear quite a bit from Francis Ford Coppola, which is impressive. Dafoe, Peterson, Ellen Burstyn, and Matthew McConaughey all have good stories or relevant insights to add.

Uncut really is a tribute film, but that is not necessarily bad.  Arguably, a wider ranging examination of his films could have led to fuller understanding of his career, but more to the point, there are probably a lot of cult movie fans out there who would like to hear the inside dope on The Guardian and the C.A.T. Squad TV-movies co-starring the late, great Steve James (or maybe that’s just me). On the other hand, most genre connoisseurs could easily watch an entire documentary on The Exorcist—and there is indeed a lot of Exorcist in Uncut. Mostly brisk and amusing, Friedman Uncut is recommended for devoted cineastes. It is now playing in LA at the Arena Cinelounge.