William Friedkin: The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir

William Friedkin: The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir

For years, the public cavalierly wrote off director William Friedkin as an early-’70s Hollywood burnout who’d lapsed into decades of mostly disastrous work. Then, with 2006’s Bug and 2011’s Killer Joe, viewers started taking him seriously again. Friedkin is aware of this unfair, simplistic perception—one chapter of his memoir The Friedkin Connection, addressing his post-Exorcist decline into big-budget failures, is titled “Hubris.” And he knows which of his titles most readers will want to hear about: He devotes a third of the book to The French Connection and The Exorcist. The volume glosses over his professional-wilderness years (1990’s notorious killer-tree flop The Guardian is conspicuously unmentioned) and omits his personal life almost entirely, apart from some family anecdotes. This selective lack of detail, he says, is “lest the book be slapped with an NC17 rating.”

That’s a heavy-handed wink in a book whose macho impulses are otherwise entirely straight-faced. In the first 90 pages, Friedkin sketches out his professional training and rise through television documentaries. The third chapter, “Good Times,” begins with the declaration, “I’ve worked with many talented people, but only a few geniuses. One of them was Sonny Bono.” A two-page description of Bono’s songwriting and producing methods follows, an example of Friedkin’s flair for detailed recollection when the period interests him. His chapter on The French Connection from gestation to release is full of harrowing descriptions of barely legal or illegal shoots, including stolen shots on subway platforms with 200 extras, a car chase shot with no official permission or coordination, and sequences that required a $40,000 bribe to an MTA official. “I put people’s lives at risk,” he concludes. “I say this more out of shame than pride; no film is worth it.”

The book is valuable for its candor on a variety of fronts: about life-endangering shots in Friedkin’s early work, corporate production difficulties, and the difficulty of working with egoists like Al Pacino. Humorless but leanly satisfying, it’s the work of a man who can admit a director must have “the solution to whatever problems arise,” including, on three different occasions, hitting an actor in the face to get the desired reaction. Friedkin is even-handed throughout in his self-lacerations, both personal and artistic. The book’s end offers a succinct description of what “the Friedkin connection” in a seemingly disparate body of work might be: “Every one of my films, plays, and operas has been marked by conflict, sometimes vindictive,” he observes. “The common denominator is me, so what does that tell you?”

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