William Friedkin has never stopped growing on me. There was a time in my nascent movie geek years when I thought interesting Friedkin began with The French Connection and ended with The Exorcist. I wrongly assumed that the director was either a man of wasted potential or, worse, an untalented director who lucked out with a couple of great flukes. But then I did a little digging; I ventured outside the obvious, critically acclaimed masterpieces. I actually started watching other Friedkin pictures.
Wow, Sorcerer is not only a great thriller, it's also one of my favortie remakes. The bizarre Cruising is one of the craziest, most transgressive thrillers to be released by a major studio. To Live and Die in L.A. manages not only to cleverly play with genre conventions, it also contains one of my favorite car chases. So much more interesting about Friedkin's work than I had any idea. And all I had to do was watch his other movies to figure that shit out. Go figure.
What is it about being a young'un that lends itself so beautifully to proudly, defiantly uninformed douchery. I was so quick to make stupidly sweeping statements and hold steadfast to incredibly ill-informed opinions in my early movie-watching years that my present self is embarrassed as hell by my early self. Why did I believe such things about the work of Friedkin when I hadn't even seen any of his work outside of The French Connection and The Exorcist? Because I was young and young people are dumb.
But aging is rather humbling. The more you learn, the more you know you really don't know. I suppose it's why a phrase such as "[random artistic genre] fucking sucks, man. I don't need to listen to [artist synonymous with said genre] to know he sucks, because they all suck" can only come from the mouth of a young'un. With age comes a realization that most of these sweeping value judgement don't mean squat: they're are all just extensions of the specific personalities of the people passing the judgement.
I have really come to realize that there is no such thing as good or bad; there are only things that appeal to different personalities. And so, though certain types of movies don't appeal to me, I am loath anymore to make sweeping value judgements of these movies or the people who watch them. It's also why I review movies from only the genres or filmmakers I already have an affintiy for. Even if I don't care for the specific movie I'm reviewing, at least I didn't go into it with a negative attitude. I never watch blog movies to hate them; I go into all of these with an open mind. Indeed, only twice in the history of the blog did I choose movies specifically because I knew I would hate them: Old Dogs and Reality Bites. And I feel guilty about both of those. Sure, these famous movies brought me more hits—which is, whore that I am, why I reviewed them—but I still feel gross about it (and yet, I still linked to them).
So why did I earlier misjudge Friedkin; why did I dismiss the man? What was my specific teenage bias? Whatever the opinion of those that I assumed to be experts in the fields I was interested in said about the things I was interested in. In other words, I was a pretentious fucker. I had read some piece on seventies cinema in which the writer mentioned several directors who were done in by their own hubris. The failure of Sorcerer at the box office, for instance, was attributed to an over-confident Friedkin. Coming on the heels of the successful The Exorcist, the cocky Friedkin—so the story went—overstepped with his remake of Wages of Fear. And the movie-going public rejected him. Thereafter, as per the narrative concocted by the writer, Friedkin stopped caring; he started phoning it in. He made a string of forgettable pictures solely for the paychecks.
And I bought into this. Because I never saw the other pictures. Well, that writer makes an interesting point. Works for me. But when I started watching the later movies, I realized that not only did these movies defy the writer's Freidkin opinion, these films gave me great respect for the director's talent.
And I'm still discovering interesting post-The Exorcist Friedkin pictures. Hell, afer watching his (on the surface) generic picture Rampage, I realized that even when he's not interesting, Friedkin's still interesting.
Rampage belongs to the "let's get tough on crime" genre that was so prevalent in the eighties. Specifically, it is a serial killer/court drama picture playing on fears that the most deranged killers always get off on insanity technicalities. Interestingly, whereas most films of this ilk take a hardline approach to the subject; Friedkin's is a little muddled. Our prosecutor hero Anthony Fraser (Michael Biehn) must prove that deranged killer Charles Reece (Alex McArthur) is not insane, because otherwise, Charles will escape the gas chamber and end up in an insane ward where he'll be eligible for parole. And yet, everything in the picture points so clearly to the insanity of Charles.
(By the way, I'm not going to get into a discussion of the death penalty. This isn't a political blog; I don't want to turn away readers by inserting that kind of stuff here. So, in bringing up this character's sanity, I am in no way intending to voice opinions on the rightness or wrongness of executing such individuals; I am merely stating my opinion on the depiction of a fictional character. (Yes, Rampage was based on a true story —this wikipedia page on the disturbing acts of the real killer is enough to cause a couple weeks of lost sleep—but Friedkin played so loose and fast with the facts of the case, that the movie bears little resemblance to actual events.))
No remotely sane individual would come anywhere close to approaching the kinds of heinous acts Charlie so casually commits. But proving Charlie's sanity is the only way Anthony can get a conviction. We want Anthony to prove something we know can't be true. But I think this disconnect is intentional. Friedkin is a fan of intentional ambiguity. With Cruising, for instance, Friedkin muddies the waters so much that by the end of the movie you know less than you did at the outset. The more you know, the more you really don't know.