William Friedkin has arrived in Venice to receive the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. He’s also here for the world premiere of Warner Bros’ newly restored version of his 1977 film Sorcerer. It’s the one he’d like to be remembered for. It “came the closest to my vision of it; the result is the way I first saw it in my mind’s eye,” he said as part of a wide-ranging and animated chat with journalists ahead of his award ceremony today.
Friedkin was last on the Lido with 2011’s gritty Killer Joe. That movie was penned by Tracy Letts with whom the director also collaborated on 2006’s Bug. He said this afternoon that he hopes to make another movie with Letts and that the two have discussed “doing a contemporary Western.” When, he’s not sure, though. Opera afficianado Friedkin is currently planning a new take on Rigoletto with Placido Domingo and noted that Letts is busy penning a new version of The Grapes Of Wrath for DreamWorks.
Speaking of the current state of the studio system, Friedkin lamented the lack of original ideas in Hollywood. He said Killer Joe and Bug couldn’t have been made with a studio. “Hollywood today is like a big casino… where you gamble and put all the chips on one turn of a card.” To get a movie made within the system, Friedkin cracked, “You have to have someone wearing a spandex suit with a letter on his chest flying around the world saving it from evil… Somebody who can kill vampires or zombies. I don’t want to do that. I don’t even want to watch it.” He added that the studios “have a problem” but that they will continue to exist “for a good long time to come.” The real trouble will hit if distribution methods continue to change drastically and find success. With aspiring filmmakers now able to shoot, edit and post their movies online by themselves, “You’re going to see a broadening of the number of people who enter the world of cinema and the way their films will be distributed.”
Of Sorcerer, Friedkin said, “It was a difficult film to make, but I think we were all lucky.” There were a lot of physical problems during production including malaria and gangrene. The movie brings together a group of four outcasts who must transport unstable nitroglycerin through the jungle in two scrap trucks. Friedkin called it a “metaphor for the nations of the world that can’t get along.” Alluding to the current crisis in Syria, the director insisted there is “no doubt that the world right now is on the edge of extinction… Everyone is threatening everyone today in a way I haven’t experienced since the Second World War. Only now, the weapons are nuclear and all it takes is one madman to end the whole thing… The only real solution is if the world again comes up with a Ghandi or an Anwar Sadat or a Martin Luther King Jr.” A major role of cinema, he said, is as “a way for people to come together who don’t necessarily like each other.”
The director’s classics include The Exorcist and The French Connection, which won five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and a Best Actor statue for Gene Hackman. He was asked today whether he’s eased up on his actors and recalled working with Hackman. “I was difficult with Hackman because his character was difficult. As a director I work very much like a psychiatrist… You have to provoke emotion. (Hackman) was more angry at me than the drug dealer [in the film]. This is what I intended and it’s one of the reasons his performance is so good.”
Finally, he offered a piece of advice to aspiring filmmakers. “If you are in a cinema school, leave immediately! Nobody can teach you how to do cinema. It’s something you learn by doing and seeing. Cinema begets cinema.”