William Friedkin, was a man synonymous with groundbreaking cinema, born on August 29, 1935, in Chicago, Illinois, Friedkin’s path to becoming a maverick director was a journey filled with challenges, triumphs, and an unrelenting commitment to pushing cinematic boundaries.
Friedkin’s fascination with the world of entertainment began at a young age. He started his career in the film industry as a documentary filmmaker, directing various projects that showcased his innate storytelling ability. His first feature film, “The People vs. Paul Crump” (1962), a documentary that explored the case of a death row inmate, garnered critical acclaim, and marked the beginning of his cinematic journey.
Friedkin’s breakthrough came in 1971 with the release of “The French Connection.” This gritty, suspenseful crime drama not only showcased his innovative directorial style but also earned him the Academy Award for Best Director. The film’s iconic car chase scene through the streets of New York City remains a cinematic benchmark to this day. Friedkin’s ability to create tension and capture raw realism on screen set him apart as a director to watch.
“The French Connection was really made in the editing room. One of the easiest sequences to do was the chase scene. It was relatively easy to do because everything was worked out minutely, carefully planned and checked in advance. Of course, there were some human errors and we did wreck a couple of cars before we were through.”
Friedkin’s most famous work, “The Exorcist” (1973), solidified his status as a master of horror. The film’s chilling portrayal of a possessed young girl, combined with Friedkin’s meticulous attention to detail and atmosphere, redefined the horror genre. The movie’s impact was so profound that it continues to influence horror filmmakers and remains a cornerstone of popular culture.
Throughout his career, Friedkin continued to explore various genres, showcasing his versatility as a director. He directed “Sorcerer” (1977), a suspenseful thriller set in the South American jungle, and “To Live and Die in L.A.” (1985), a gritty crime drama that further highlighted his ability to capture tension and suspense. In the 2000s, he directed “The Hunted” (2003), a thriller exploring the world of military and psychological warfare and the southern gothic black comedy/psychological thriller “Killer Joe” (2011) which follows Chris, a Texan drug dealer, who finds himself in a huge debt and is in urgent need of money. He is left with no other option than killing his own mother, Adele, in order to claim the insurance money.
“By the time a film of mine makes it into the theatres, I have a love-hate relationship with it. There is always something I could have done to make it better.”
Friedkin’s impact on cinema extends beyond his individual films. His willingness to tackle challenging subject matter, his dedication to authenticity, and his innovative storytelling techniques have inspired generations of filmmakers. His legacy is not only marked by his artistic achievements but also by his influence on the evolution of cinematic language.
“I consider myself just another member of the crew, the highest paid member of the crew.”
Friedkin died from heart failure and pneumonia at his home in Bel Air, Los Angeles, on August 7th 2023, at the age of 87 years old. His life and career exemplify the journey of a visionary filmmaker who dared to push boundaries and create groundbreaking works of art. From his early beginnings in documentary filmmaking to his iconic contributions to the horror and thriller genres, Friedkin’s impact on cinema is undeniable. As we reflect on his illustrious career, we are reminded of the power of storytelling and the enduring influence of a true cinematic maverick.