It was with great regret that I heard that Academy Award-winning film director William Friedkin died yesterday, August 7, 2023. The cause was heart failure and pneumonia. He was 87.
Friedkin was fascinated by the thin line between good and evil. Many of his films reflected that unflinching obsession, including THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) for which he won his Oscar, THE EXORCIST (1973), SORCERER (1977), TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (1985), KILLER JOE (2011).
Friedkin’s career includes resounding successes, and astounding failures. He also had a true passion for filmmaking. He electrified audiences. He did not shy away from aberrance. The images he put on screen–darkly seductive, violently beautiful–combined with characters full of courage and doubt, intensity and fear, composed the dark soul of his cinematic reality.
His final film, THE CAINE MUTINY COURT-MARTIAL, premieres at the Venice International Film Festival next month. Based on the stage play written by Herman Wouk from his 1951 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Friedkin adapted and updated the play from its World War II setting to the present day in the Persian Gulf.
On a personal note, I am indebted to Billy Friedkin. When I met him at his office on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank in September of 1979 to discuss my proposal of a book on his films, he said he was not interested in participating “unless it’s honest, otherwise it’s just a waste of my time.” Relieved, I assured him a serious study was exactly what I wanted to do. Then he asked me what I thought of his films. I told him I had not yet seen his early documentary or television work. Then I began naming off his films, telling what I liked, did not like, and briefly why. I felt nervous. He had asked for honesty, and I wasn’t going to lie to him. He sat behind his desk, listening quietly, never looking away from me. When I finished, he said, “That sounds fair. I’d agree with that assessment.”
Thank you, Billy. Thank you for everything. The movies won’t be the same without you.