Friedkin. Five achievable films total is a low number and that hurts- but clearly some great visuals (the shots below are an alarming reminder that I’m long overdue for a rewatch of Sorcerer and To Live and Die in L.A.) and two big hairy 1970’s American New Wave Masterpieces (The French Connection and The Exorcist) put Friedkin here. His filmography actually grades him out higher than 108th (the filmography alone ranks him 70th) and having two films in the top 207 of all-time is such an achievement— but I have a hard time finding similarities between his films—especially his two best films- and that’s a problem when looking at auteurs and going about the impossible task of ranking them.
Best film: The Exorcist. One of the great horror films of all-time for sure. From the extended prologue to the infamous climax- Friedkin is building this masterpiece carefully brick by brick. The use of lighting from the bedroom to the street is a poster I have in my basement for a reason. It’s cinematic wall-art at its finest.
total archiveable films: 5
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 2 (The Exorcist, The French Connection)
top 100 films of the decade: 2 (The Exorcist, The French Connection)
most overrated: Nothing here actually. Friedkin only has two films in the TSPDT top 1000—French Connection and The Exorcist and I have both films graded out higher than where the TSPDT consensus has them.
most underrated: The French Connection. The 1971 Masterpiece is at #563 on TSPDT and I’m at #207.
The French Connection is a clear masterpiece from Friedkin in 1971. It won best picture, director, actor (Hackman), writing and editing but is still, somehow, underrated at #563 all-time on TSPDT. It’s 300 slots better than that at a minimum. It’s detailed, authentic, filled with brilliant examples of film form at its finest and some virtuoso stylistic high-water marks as well.
I’ve seen the film several times over the years but it’s one of those cinematic gems that gets better with each viewing. I love the location shooting- look, feel and smell of 1971 New York City.
Friedkin deserves the most praise and he holds the film together through really brilliant film form. One strand of the form is editing juxtaposing the rich French drug dealer (fernando rey) with the gritty nyc blue collar cops. In several great editing sequences they show Rey eating escargot and picking from a wine list a warm, inviting upscale restaurant while showing Hackman and scheider freezing outside drinking stale pizza and bad coffee. The film is largely a cat and mouse game including these long sequences detailed in great length that might test the patience of some viewers. It’s part of the wonderful detail that Friedkin displays in several scenes here (taking the car apart at the end, testing the heroin step by step, the car chase). Friedkin even displays this in some of his other films, particularly in his other masterpiece, the exorcist (1973)—think back to the scenes of Regan from the exorcist where she’s getting tested at the hospital—or even the long opening prologue with max von sydow excavating- love it.
The greatest example of this level of formal detail and stylistic bravado is the famous car chase scene. It’s one of the best editing sequences in the history of film and it perfectly marries Friedkin’s formal and stylistic elements. The shot/reaction shot editing and hackman’s brilliant acting in these scenes really invokes the early work of the power of suggestion montage editing by Eisenstein and the other 1920’s Russian auteurs. Friedkin even plays homage to them, Eisenstein and Potemkin by including a baby stroller in this sequence- quite genius.
On top of everything else we have a very interesting narrative and, most probably, career-best work from Gene Hackman who is an absolute powder keg as Popeye; such a complex character.
Critics today may decry the light screenplay (even I’m a little surprised this won the screenplay Oscar (it’s sparse- it’s largely long quiet moments and then shouting by Hackman)) and the token 1970’s cinema zoom shots but I honestly love every one of them and think they’re used quite well (often to invoke the rich man vs poor man contrast I write about above).
Friedkin’s film is a masterpiece.
gem I want to spotlight: Killer Joe
- This is description, not evaluation, but the buzz words “southern fried”, “noir”, “pulp”, “sadist” and “white trash” are all apt here
- Tracy Letts wrote—this was before he was on my radar as a very solid actor
- Busch light cans and bud bottles in the trailer
- Premise is mom stole my coke so you ask dad to help you kill her- haha and when you can’t afford to hire the killer you sell your sister to him
- The entire cast is solid- McConaughey is dominant though. He’s creepy and commanding. Along with 2011’s Bernie this was a beginning of his run through 2011 where he had 8 archiveable films in 4 years. Behind him the seedy, a little touched, and slutty Juno Temple is the next best—Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church seem a little miscast and too clean cut
- Pit bulls, trailers, strip clubs, incest stuff- perverse, blackly comedic at times—BBQ plays and characters saying “K-Fry-C” and a take on the bewildering family dinner in Texas Chainsaw Massacre
- Odd violent open ending
- Recommend but not that close to the top 10 of 2011. It’s extremely entertaining though and critics of the film seem to be either bothered by the content or asking “what’s the point?” to which the answer is, clearly, to make a good movie (which is well written and acted)
stylistic innovations/traits: I’m overdue for a Friedkin study (I’ve seen many of his films but never in a cluster or in order) but the craftsmanship is there for sure. He’s a hell of a technical director (the details of Sorcerer or the chase montage in The French Connection show that off). However, his filmography grades out higher than his score here which would indicate he’s a style-minus director. That’s not really the case either- the problem is picking up similarities between his films—especially his two best big towering masterpiece films. One is about lighting, gothic imagery—the other about the raw realism, grit and authentic feel of the 1970’s NYC streets. French Connection has the car-chase montage and The Exorcist has the painterly images that belong in a museum. What each film gives us (including his 3rd and 4th best films Sorcerer and To Live and Die in L.A.) is really impressive in a vacuum—but it’s not easy to pick up on threads across the body of work and that makes it tough.
- The Exorcist
- The French Connection
- To Live and Die in L.A.
- Killer Joe
By year and grades
|1971- The French Connection||MP|
|1973- The Exorcist||MP|
|1985- To Live and Die In L.A.||R|
|2011- Killer Joe||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives