Anyone who's ever read, seen or heard an interview with the great William Friedkin will know that the man is a veritable walking wardrobe of anecdotes. So it’s no surprise that his long-awaited memoir is a delight — funny, self-effacing, and packed with tales of a career that, by his own admission, has scaled the highest heights and plumbed the deepest depths. The Exorcist, unsurprisingly, gets the brunt of the attention, with three chapters dedicated to it, while much time is also spent on The French Connection (Friedkin’s account of going to the airport to pick up Fernando Rey, only to realise he’d cast the wrong guy, is brilliant). But it’s in recollections of many of his lesser works and his early days growing up in Chicago that Friedkin really engages. At times he is painfully honest — the chapter on Sorcerer, his wildly ambitious reimagining of The Wages Of Fear, is simply entitled Hubris, while elsewhere he talks of friendships destroyed by stubbornness and bloody-mindedness (he hasn’t talked to Lalo Schifrin for over 40 years following a contretemps over the Exorcist score). Throughout, he admits to making mistakes — the chapter on Cruising, where he butts heads with a truculent Al Pacino, is fascinating, while in his foreword he gleefully admits to passing on the chance to produce Star Wars and manage Mike Tyson — and there’s a sense of regret that envelopes his career post-Exorcist, redeemed only by his marriage to Sherry Lansing, a newfound love of directing opera, and recent films (Bug, Killer Joe) that have seen a new lease of creative life.
It’s written with verve and an engaging Chicago-brand bluntness, but there’s also a sense that, no matter how self-excoriating he may be here, Friedkin is somewhat pulling his punches. At the beginning of the book, he admits to leaving out more salacious recollections, and his love life doesn’t figure at all until he meets his wife in 1991. There are also intriguing references to a seemingly endless list of insalubrious cohorts with names right out of Dick Tracy, like The Torch and Uncle Mort, which are never satisfactorily expanded upon. But it’s hard not to admire a man who starts the book with a quote from Elia Kazan on the arrogance of directors, then immediately follows it with a quote from himself. How’s that for a slice of Friedkin gold?
Reviewed by Chris Hewitt