William Friedkin is a big part of what I love about the 70’s. It was the decade when I became a teenager. It was also the greatest movie decade, ever. It gave us an unrivalled diversity in movies and genres, from CHINATOWN to JAWS, from STAR WARS to THE EXORCIST.
Friedkin came out as one of the seminal directors of the decade. His masterpieces THE EXORCIST and THE FRENCH CONNECTION exude a profound cinematic quality. William Friedkin captured what was both enthralling and disillusioning about the decade.
Both movies were R-rated, and to this day THE FRENCH CONNECTION ranks in the Top 50 for all-time adjusted box office in that category.
At the very top of the list, with an adjusted BO of eight hundred sixty million dollars shines … THE EXORCIST.
Energy Of An Era
Great movies always start with a great script, and the best directors add a texture that no script can suggest or predict, let alone prescribe. Hence the word ‘magic’, I guess. I rather like to speak of ‘energy’. THE FRENCH CONNECTION is a prime example of a film with that elusive quality.
Any-cops-and-robbers story can be filmed in a million different ways. Look at Michael Mann’s HEAT – another movie based on a legendary real-life detective – and you’ll understand how important the personal touch of the director is in both movies.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION has this elegant, naturalistic, quasi-European flavour to it. A cop movie, alright, but not the cliché one that got tired quickly. This is an event movie with an arthouse sensibility. And with Hackman as Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle. That man can’t do anything wrong. Amazing face, amazing talent.
William Friedkin’s Cinematic Splendor
When people talk about the movie these days, it is often in relation to the mythical chase. There is so much more to this picture that made it unique, irresistible and timeless.
Much like Popeye in the movie, William Friedkin didn’t really separate work and life very well. Or rather: truth and fiction. None of the people in the background are extras. They were actual New York residents going about their day. And the traffic jam on the Brooklyn Bridge was real. The filmmakers blocked the bridge – without permits.
Friedkin took his documentary approach to the extreme: the camera operator would often have to guess what was going to happen, and where.
The scene where Jimmy first lays his eye on mobster Sal Boca, plays in the actual Copacabana nightclub, and the singers are the real Three Degrees.
The Copacabana Scene
The scene opens with a live rendition of the rhythm & blues song “Everybody Gets To Go To The Moon”. The song plays throughout most of the scene as a counterpoint to the action. The singers perform with a powerful, today perhaps somewhat naive energy, in a way reflecting the spirit of a time that would be fading rapidly in the 70’s. And ultimately in this film, too.
When Jimmy enters the club, it is apparent he knows many of the regulars, some intimately. He glances at the band, swaying along with the music. For a short moment, it seems he is truly relaxing; but Popeye Doyle always mixes business with pleasure, and soon we will be witness to this.
Friedkin freezes the moment, the music drops, and only image and sound portray what is going on in Doyles’ mind. Over a high-pitched sound, we zoom in on his unrelenting gaze.
With this simple audio-visual trick, William Friedkin forces us into the tunnel vision of Popeye’s point of view.
When he suggests to Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) to ‘put a tail’ on the suspects, Buddy replies: “I thought we came here to buy me a drink.” The poor bastard has no idea what he is in for…
The scene starts off a sequence that will take the duo on the trail of the suspects until dawn – and beyond.
Doyle knows no bounds, and he will take Russo on his path into the darkness of the night.
Watch the movie clip and download the screenplay!