(Harper Collins, 512 pages, $29.99)
By William Friedkin
William Friedkin is rightly considered a pioneer of the New Hollywood movement that exploded onto American screens in the late ’60s and ’70s. Sometimes thought of as the enfant terrible of the New Hollywood filmmakers, Friedkin’s autobiography The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir is a firsthand journey into the tempestuous, darkly brilliant mind of an auteur whose films influenced a generation.
By his own admission, Friedkin began as “a punk teenager in Chicago” who “didn’t know a damn thing about anything,” until two things happened. First, he fell into a job in the mailroom of a local TV station. Then, he happened to catch a screening of Citizen Kane in re-release. The former would change his life; the latter would shape it. Consumed by a driving passion to become a filmmaker at any cost, he worked his way from mail clerk to floor manager to live TV director, and cut his teeth in Hollywood on a string of low-budget flops before fighting forÑand winning; his career-changing gig as the director of the groundbreaking crime drama The French Connection in 1971.
As memoirs go, this one is methodical in its linear chronology, but Friedkin’s indisputable gift as a storyteller brings his behind-the-scenes methods to life with popping, vibrant detail. Friedkin takes the reader along for the ride as he patrols with The French Connection’s real-life counterparts on stakeouts, raids, and busts in New York’s seediest slums, in an attempt to understand the rawness he wanted to convey. He brings us right into the thick of political upheaval in 1970s Northern Iraq on his wild location shoot for The Exorcist in which he and his crew became “friendly hostages” when a local uprising made it too dangerous to leave their lodgings.
Such volatility paralleled Friedkin’s constant struggle with studio executives, as he fought for creative control over every film, refusing to sacrifice his very clear artistic vision; often at high personal cost. But Friedkin’s admitted “moral ambiguity” was precisely what much of New Hollywood was about.
Not shying away from his blunders; both personal and professional; Friedkin is unashamed to own up to the burned bridges and bruised relationships made along the way in pursuit of what he calls his “obsessive desire for perfection.”
His excruciating candor feels, at times, almost cathartic. Perhaps it was. But the results are shockingly honest, at times uncomfortably so, and frequently challenging; much like his films. In some cases it’s possible to separate the art from the artist, but as this memoir proves, for Friedkin, they are two sides of the same coin.
Review written by Carley Johnson