Directed by: Francesco Zippel
OPENING AT CITY CINEMAS VILLAGE EAST, New York, New York
FRIDAY, AUGUST 23, 2019
In Hollywood, the word “real” is an anomaly. It is a place where the goal is to try to fool others into believing things even when there is proof that the impossible is just that, impossible. Enter William Friedkin, the director of such classics as The Exorcist and The French Connection, as well other well respected although lesser-known films as Sorcerer and Killer Joe.
In his documentary Friedkin, Uncut, the director, producer, and writer, Francesco Zippel pulls back the curtain on Friedkin’s life to show us he isn’t some magical wizard, per se, but a regular guy with a cutting sense of humor and a brilliant mind for making movies. The documentary is an exploration into Friedkin’s films with intermittent commentary throughout from such notable directors as Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Dario Argento, Walter Hill, and Francis Ford Coppola. Each gives insight into the ways in which Friedkin was able to achieve his cinematic goals which were often legendary. He also did so when according to Coppola, “It wasn’t done through special effects, it wasn’t fake. It was made at a time when if you wanted to show something extraordinary, you had to do something extraordinary and photograph it.” The film also takes a deep dive into Friedkin’s background and the people, places, and things that were of the greatest influence on him.
Friedkin made his foray into the film industry from television after watching Citizen Kane which showed him how the power of film allowed one, “…to go so far below the surface of human lives.” This led him to make his first documentary called The People v. Paul Crump, about a man who was on death row in Chicago’s Cook County prison for nine years. The end result was having Otto Kerner, the-then Governor of Illinois deciding to spare Paul Crump’s life and leading to his eventual release.
Fueled by the idea that film can create real change, Friedkin moved to Hollywood where he was quickly and “completely dispelled of that notion”. He did, however, realize after watching the movie Z by Costa-Gavras, that he could use the documentary technique to tell fictional stories. This combined with his fascination of showing us the underbelly of places like New York City, Los Angeles, and Brazil, created a legacy of sorts whereby the viewer when watching his movies, would not be wrong to feel what they are witnessing on the screen was happening in real-time. In fact, Friedkin points out, 95% of The French Connection occurred in just the way it was shown in the movie.
Zippel also takes us behind the scenes into Friedkin’s way of thinking from interviews with various actors cast in his films such as Willem Dafoe, Matthew McConaughey, Gina Gershon, William Petersen, and Ellen Burstyn. In line with his determination to ‘keep it real,” we learn that he prefers to make a suggestion to the actor and watch what they do with what he has said to them. According to Gina Gershon, “Billy is almost like a method director… He will do what he needs to get the scene out of you. Burstyn said,“ My training was…how to be real in the fiction and that was Billy’s background too.”
In Friedkin’s own words, “I try not to rehearse with actors as though they are giving a performance.” After casting a role, Friedkin would often send the actor out to work with a real person who was whatever type of character they were playing, such as a cop or a priest. Most of the time, he would shoot the scene in one take. “I’m not looking for perfection in the films that I’ve made, I’m looking for spontaneity,” he said.
It’s clear Friedkin is a man that doesn’t take himself too seriously. Sprinkled throughout are scenes of him speaking at a variety of film festivals around the world, allowing us to see not only the numerous accolades he has received for his work, but also his incredibly playful side and his sharp sense of humor. After listing certain exceptions, Friedkin says he believes that “acting and filmmaking are both professions, it’s a job. Some schmuck who sits around and says ‘I’m an artist’ is fucking crazy.”
Zippel takes the time to explore both Friedkin’s most popular films and those that although they didn’t fare well at the box office, are still considered a must-watch for aspiring filmmakers. One example is Sorcerer. According to Tarantino, “It’s one of the greatest movies ever made.” Not that any of this matters to Friedkin who tells us, “The whole story of Hollywood can be expressed in one sentence; success has many fathers and failure is an orphan.”
There are several other roads that Zippel takes us down that will be surprising to many, even those that know a little more about Friedkin than the average Joe. However, this is something I will leave the reader of this review to discover for themselves.
FRIEDKIN, UNCUT is playing in New York at City Cinemas Village East beginning Friday, August 23, 2019. For more info and tickets, please visit
Jessica Bern is a Staff Editor/Writer for Honeysuckle Magazine. She also works as a freelance writer. Her essays have appeared in The Woolfer, SheKnows, The Girlfriend, and in an upcoming anthology entitled WE GOT THIS, published by She Writes Press, which launches on September 10, 2019. The book includes essays by such notable writers as Amy Poehler and Anne Lamott. bernthis.com