News Column

William Friedkin: having 1 of his best years

September 12, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 12--This has been quite a year for William Friedkin, an American master who's feeling the love of late.

In April, his memoir, "The Friedkin Connection," was released, and it's a best-seller. In May, he was a special guest at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Last month, he was given a lifetime achievement award at the Venice Film Festival, where he premiered the restoration of his neglected masterpiece, "Sorcerer." Next month, a remastered 40th anniversary edition of "The Exorcist" will be released on Blu-ray.

And this month, the 78-year-old filmmaker is back in the Bay Area to spend a weekend in Berkeley as part of a retrospective of his work.

"Dark Matters: The Films of William Friedkin" is a modest six-film series beginning Thursday night with "To Live and Die in L.A.," continuing this weekend with "The French Connection" and "The Boys in the Band" and finishing next week with Friedkin in person to introduce the "Sorcerer" restoration (its first screening since the Venice premiere) as well as "Cruising" and last year's twisted art house hit, "Killer Joe."

"What drives me is movies are something I feel some kinship with," Friedkin said. "I think I've only made 19 films in over 50 years of doing it. But I work all the time on stuff. I wish I'd come up in the studio system, but I was too late for that. A director like Michael Curtiz in the studio system could do 'Casablanca' and three or four other films that year.

"I know I'd be a better director if I came up in the studio system. I just don't work often enough."

Friedkin, who is originally from Chicago and lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife, former Paramount head Sherry Lansing, is a frequent visitor to the Bay Area. He won his first award at the San Francisco International Film Festival in the 1960s (for a documentary, "The People vs. Paul Crump") and is an opera and symphony fan (Friedkin has directed several operas).

He even directed a film here, "Jade," a 1995 thriller that he calls his most underrated film (not in the Pacific Film Archive retrospective) -- with a car chase that he thinks is better than the San Francisco standard, "Bullitt," a problem he first tackled in his 1971 Oscar-winning classic "The French Connection" (showing 8:30 p.m. Saturday).

" 'Bullitt' is the best cop film I've ever seen," Friedkin said. "I probably watch it five times a year. But not the chase. I like it, but I don't think it's great. What they did was clear the streets and send the cars over the hills. No people in danger.

"But I knew I had to top 'Bullitt' when I made 'The French Connection.' I felt that the way to do that was to put citizens in danger -- people in the streets."

Friedkin is especially proud of his memoir, which has gotten mostly good reviews, and says it was somewhat therapeutic for him.

"I never kept diaries," he said. "I had no notes that I kept. I gave all my files to the Motion Picture Academy. ... The publisher told me, 'Don't give us what happened, but how you felt.' That's what opened the door for me. It was about feeling rather than events. I wrote it longhand, in moleskin books over a three-year period. I would write at airports, restaurants, airplanes, home -- wherever."

Dark Matters: The Films of William Friedkin: Through Sept. 21. Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. (510) 642-1124. www.bampfa.berkeley.edu.

Friedkin in person: At "Sorcerer" (7 p.m. next Thursday) and at "Cruising" and "Killer Joe" (both Sept. 21; double feature and book signing begins at 6 p.m.)

G. Allen Johnson is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: ajohnson@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @BRfilmsAllen

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(c)2013 the San Francisco Chronicle

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