The 1970s remains one of the great decades for American cinema, and one of the key filmmakers from that era is William Friedkin, the director who gave us two of the best films of the decade: the hard-hitting police drama The French Connection (1971), and the groundbreaking, iconic horror film, The Exoricst (1973). Now, Friedkin tells the story of his remarkable career in his new book, The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir”.
Friedkin begins by relating how his directing career began not in film, but rather in television, answering an ad in the Chicago Sun Times to work in the mail room for a local TV station, learning the ropes by watching the production from the control room, working his way up to floor manager and eventually director. His descriptions of the TV station at that time paint a vivid picture of the early years of television. The book is filled with details about Friedkin’s early professional directing career for producer David L. Wolper, as well as interesting stories such as his experience meeting Alfred Hitchcock while directing the last episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on the Universal lot.
Perhaps the most interesting chapters deal with the production of The French Connection and The Exorcist, Friedkin’s best-known works. He recalls his first meetings with Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, the models for the characters in The French Connection, and his experience riding along with them on drug raids, which he re-created in the film. Shooting the film proved to be a challenging experience, from securing the filming locations in New York, to working with Gene Hackman in bringing out the difficult qualities in his performance of ‘Popeye’ Doyle that Friedkin was seeking. The film eventually won the 1971 Academy Award for Best Picture and is recognized as a classic of the New Hollywood period.
Friedkin’s follow up film, The Exorcist has a fascinating production history that Friedkin recalls in great depth. He describes the difficulty of the casting process, in particular finding a young girl who could play the part of Regan, and recalls his first meeting with Linda Blair, who was eventually cast in the part. Friedkin also goes into detail about filming the prologue in Iraq, which presented its own set of challenges to secure the necessary permissions. Then of course there was the controversy surrounding the film on its release.
As a filmmaker, Friedkin gives readers a great deal of insight into the directing process. His experiences convey the creative decisions involved in directing films across a wide variety of genre and subject matter. Later in the book, he even describes his experience in directing an opera, Wozzek, and the differences between directing for the two mediums.
William Friedkin: A Memoir, published by Harper Collins, is a fascinating read for both filmmakers and those interested in film history. For more information on the book, please visit the Harper Collins website here.