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Exclusive: William Friedkin Talks Making 'Killer Joe,' The Problem With Exorcism Movies, 'Sorcerer' & Much More

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist July 26, 2012 at 11:59AM

Deep fried, dangerous, obscene, hilarious and hugely entertaining, while not for the faint of heart, William Friedkin's "Killer Joe" proves the director hasn't lost the energetic spirit that put him on the map in the 1970s with films like "The French Connection" and "The Exorcist." And indeed, it might be his most controversial film since that latter pic. The film's violence and nudity might have made some folks at the MPAA squirm, but it was undoubtedly a climatic sequence involving fried chicken that pushed them over the edge.
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Sorcerer
In recent years, films like "Sorcerer" and "Cruising" have all grown in critical appraisal. Do you think that those films were misunderstood at the time?
Well, there's always a zeitgeist and it's ever changing. Some films are right in tune with the zeitgeist and others aren't. There's nothing you can do about it. When I read the script of "Star Wars" I never thought anybody would go to see this picture from just reading the script and so I never know how any of my films are going to be released or accepted. I wasn't totally dumb, I knew that "Bug" would have a limited audience, it's so insular and claustrophobic and it's about so much other than its plot that I felt it could be a little hit you over the head to the audience, but a lot of people who see "Bug" really appreciated it and I appreciate that. I don't think the same of all of my films either, I don't think they're all of the same quality. Not because I didn't try to make them as well as I could or intentionally didn't do this one as well as that one, no, I had a reason for doing every film I've done with the exception of the very first one ["Good Times"], they were not for money. The first film I ever did was to just become a film director. I had no particular feeling for the subject or story. The movie was with Sonny and Cher but it automatically made me a feature film director. Whereas today you could go out and buy a camera today and shoot your own film. You don't need to have someone to commission you to make a film anymore. The equipment is available and operative, you don’t need to go to film school for four years to figure out how to shoot a picture today on digital cinematography and get it posted on YouTube and somewhere else so that's changed everything for people wanting to make films, they can now do it. I couldn't, I had to go through a long apprenticeship before I could direct a film.

There have been some legal troubles around "Sorcerer," is that going to be resolved? Are we going to see that film eventually find a proper home?
I hope so. I sued Universal and Paramount to determine who owns the rights because, through their legal affairs department, claimed they didn't own the rights and I don't know what's happened, I think it has fallen between the cracks. So I'm suing these guys to save the afterlife of the film. Until last year it was run all of the time for groups that wanted to run it and Paramount made a new print last year of "Sorcerer," a beautiful new print, and now this year people come in and have said, "Can we run this as well?" and the response they've gotten is, "We don't own it." We don't know who does, and so I'm assuming that they're not lying to me and maybe it's possible that I own it, that the copyright has fallen to me but I wouldn't bet on it, but they don't seem to know or want to say who owns it and I find that very strange. And this isn't everybody at that studio, it's the legal department. But I think they're all probably under instruction to get rid of 35 millimeter.

William Peter Blatty William Friedkin
That's true, digital is on the way, where do you stand on that divide?
There won't be 35 [mm] being made, the raw stuff, it won't be made after this year. I think precious little is being made now. There are a lot of die hards but I'm not one of them, it's progress. I liked CDs better than I liked 33 and a thirds. I think the sound is better on a CD. A lot of people prefer 78 or 33 RPM, I don't and I prefer the digital equipment to 35 millimeter, I think it's a natural evolution.

I read recently that you are writing your memoirs for Harper Collins and I'm just wondering how that's coming along.
I finished it, I turned it in and they love it. Then I read it and I don't love it so I'm going to New York tomorrow to work for about eight or nine days with my editor and try to put back in some of the things that she cut. She sent me a wonderful note saying, "Congratulations the book is great and it's one of the best things of its kind I've ever read" and than I started to look -- I'd been away from it for a while, I wrote it in longhand over two or three years -- and I looked through it and I was appalled at a lot of the stuff that I had in there. It was overwritten I felt, so I got in touch with her and I said, "I've got to come in and see you because I think, you know, I'm not as sure as you are that this is the final form."

The Night They Raided Minskys
Did you surprise yourself by anything you remembered?
There were a lot of things. I went back and interviewed a lot of people that I had worked with in the past, like Bill Blatty and Norman Lear who wrote "The Night They Raided Minskys," and their perspective on things as well as their specific memory of certain events was different from my own. It's like if you and I were sitting on opposite sides of a table, we'd be seeing a different picture. Let's say there was a vase of flowers in front of us and we would be seeing it from a different perspective. I found that that was the case with the stories in my book. Now I didn't keep any diaries over the years, I wrote everything from memory, so then when I interviewed several people I tried to reflect whatever, it was an open question, I tried to reflect their perspective on these matters as well.

What are we going to learn about you that we don't know?
That's for you to find out, you have to be specific. You'll find out that I am not my films, for one thing, I really am not any of the characters, but all of the characters or most of them in the films fascinate me one way or another, but I'm not those characters but yet I've had a lot of the same impulses over the years. I've had the impulse to kill people, I've never done it, but I have had the impulse, especially when I was younger. So I understand the impulse and I understand the fact that there's a constant battle between our inner angels and our bad spirits from control over our natures, I do understand that.

This article is related to: William Friedkin, Killer Joe, The Master, The Exorcist, Sorcerer


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