Not a Movie Snob - BOF: The Friedkin Connection

Posted on Monday, June 24, 2013 at 06:00 PM

Books on Film Book Review:

The Friedkin Connection
by William Friedkin

In 1971 and 1973 William Friedkin released two movies that sent shock waves through the entertainment industry. One, a gritty detective story about a rough, determined street cop, won five Academy Awards that year, including Best Picture and Best Director. The other, a harrowing, graphic account of a little girl who becomes possessed by a demon, broke box office records and put a chill in the spines of moviegoers unlike any movie had before or, arguably, has since. Friedkin would release a handful of other entertaining and challenging movies over the next forty years, but none would reach the artistic, or financial heights of his two bonafide 1970's classics.

It should come as no surprise then, that in a book that spans a career in film and television totalling, as of 2013, forty-eight years, the two biggest swaths of the book are devoted to The French Connection and The Exorcist. And who can blame him? Those are the two defining moments of his career and the ones that have had the biggest impact, on our lives and on his, and the two movies readers would be most interested to hear about.

Friedkin's memoir, boasting the very cheesy and unfortunate title 'The Friedkin Connection' is a fascinating read. His career, now rubbing up against a half century, at times reads like a greek tragedy, featuring a man who tries desperately time and time again to reach the heights and fulfill the promise of his early career, but is more often than not met with failure and hardship. Things the man makes no qualms of talking about, at times in detail.

The things he doesn't talk about, for the most part, are of his life. There's a preface (he calls it a 'spoiler' in the book) that is just a few sentences of Friedkin explaining that the book focuses mainly on his career in entertainment and not on his personal life. This is interesting, not only because Friedkin's is a personal life that has seen many scandalous and very public moments, but also because in these days when it seems nothing is off limits when it comes to the lives of celebrities, you would think that would be a featured selling point of a celebrity memoir. Instead, and in typical Friedkin fashion, he gives a big f-you to gossip hounds and states that this is a book for lovers of film who are interested in this particular career in it. And I love that. I personally could care less who slept or sleeps with whom, who's been unfaithful, who's bed your boots have been under (thank you, Shania). I'm here for the flicks and their backstories. In other words, this is my kind of memoir.

In many ways, Friedkin has had the life that most people wish for when they decide they want to be in the entertainment industry: Starting in a TV station mailroom, he worked his way up the ranks, eventually finding himself in television, directing episodes for various series and the Alfred Hitchcock Presents mystery hour. From there he earned enough kudos to go to a bigger company and start making documentary films; which got him a resume which got him an agent with a well known agency; which got him a shot at directing small features; which got him a shot at directing larger features. Two of which became big hits, making him rich and famous. Sounds like the order of life ambitions I would scribble on a paper in school.

He's also had a very tortured life though. Plagued by demons he has been powerless to exorcise, he's always been drawn to dark material. And his filmography shows it. He's also had many more box office bombs than successes and has trouble, even now, getting a movie up and off the ground. The guy who made The Exorcist and The French Connection. Can't get a movie made. Madness. But the old Hollywood credo is true: 'You're only as good as your last movie.' He's also had some serious health issues. Most of them stemming from his heart, pretty much the last muscle you want to be acting up on you. Multiple heart attacks, bypasses, risky surgeries he had a low chance of surviving..but he's still around. Still making movies and directing opera.

Which brings me to the part of the book that lagged a bit for me. For the most part 'The Friedkin Connection' is a well paced, absorbing, fascinating book. But towards the end he spends a couple of chapters talking about his later career work as an opera director. There are precious few things I find less interesting than the opera. And while some of the opera's he describes feature interesting sounding stories, opera itself works like an instant sleeping pill on my brain. Thankfully those reminiscences only occupy a small chunk of the book and he soon is back speaking of his work on films like Bug and Killer Joe.

Memoirs are pretty hit or miss affairs for me. There have been people I really admire and am interested in that have written such God awful, boring memoirs, it really is almost heart breaking to read them. On the other hand, I've read a few amazing ones of people I care very little for, but could not put their book down. 'The Friedkin Connection' occupies that third column. The column reserved for those who I admire and whose films I admire and am interested to know more about. Who write a great memoir that satisfies my salacious craving for backstory information on said films.

Now if only someone would give the poor guy a few mill to make another film. This is William Friedkin people! Throw him a bone!

At nearly 500 pages, with only maybe 25 or 30 of those pages containing discussion on things I care nothing about, 'The Friedkin Connection' is an informative, interesting book of the career and life ups and downs of the director of at least two bonafide classic films and the many more, both good and bad.

Rating: **** 



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