Peter Bart on William Friedkin: Brilliant Film Lover & Brooding Thinker


Peter Bart on William Friedkin: Brilliant Film Lover & Brooding Thinker

Billy Friedkin, an iconic force in the world of film, passed away today at 87. For many who knew him, his legacy will be remembered as one of contrasts: he was simultaneously argumentative and considerate, fierce and gentle.

To the masses, he was the genius behind some of the most beloved entertainment, but to those close to him, a deeply introspective and cerebral soul. Even in the twilight of his life, Friedkin never lost his passion for his craft.

He was eagerly planning a trip to Venice for a festival screening of his latest cinematic offering, a reimagination of "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial" for Showtime. Concurrently, the renowned director was diligently preparing to direct an opera in the heart of Florence.

Friedkin: Film, Philanthropy, and Fusion

Film was undeniably Friedkin's first love, but he was as comfortable discussing the masterpieces of Marcel Proust or dissecting the nuances of Mozart's compositions. His marriage in 1991 to Sherry Lansing, a former paramount studio magnate, melded two of the industry's most influential figures.

Their union not only transformed the entertainment realm but also channeled hundreds of millions toward philanthropy, highlighting areas in the arts and education that desperately needed the spotlight. Friedkin was not one to shy away from the memories of yesteryears.

Recollecting a poignant reunion with Norman Lloyd, the brilliant actor-director who guided Friedkin when he first stepped into the world of Alfred Hitchcock's TV thrillers, he said, “I was a dumb kid, and you saved my butt”.

It was Lloyd who once stood up for Friedkin when he overspent on a show, convincing Hitchcock to give the budding talent another chance. Their bond remained unbroken until Lloyd's passing in 2021 at 107. The 1970s saw Friedkin among a pantheon of filmmakers shaping cinematic history.

However, relationships sometimes took a tempestuous turn, particularly within the Directors Company, which included greats like Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich. Although Friedkin bore responsibilities for greenlighting productions, he notably refrained from backing Bogdanovich's "Daisy Miller," even with Orson Welles onboard.

While this decision ruffled feathers, especially Coppola's, the two eventually reconciled, sharing creative insights until the end. No account of Friedkin would be complete without mentioning "The French Connection." Known for his bold, unyielding approach, he bypassed the conventional bureaucratic channels, filming intense chase sequences without the requisite permissions.

Friedkin's hands-on approach was evident when he took control of the camera for several pivotal scenes, pushing boundaries and often alarming his crew. The resultant masterpiece, with its electrifying chases and riveting performances, stands as a testament to Friedkin's unwavering dedication to his art.