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(Credit: Guillem Medina)

Film

The movie William Friedkin calls the “ultimate existential gangster film”

@Russellisation

Too often sidelined in the conversation of the most influential filmmakers of the 1970s, William Friedkin is responsible for some truly revolutionary films from the late 20th century. 

Helming The French Connection, The Boys in the Band, Killer Joe and Bug, Friedkin was best known for the classic 1973 horror movie The Exorcist, a film that remains a pertinent classic of the genre, rearing its ugly head every Halloween season. Ever since the release of Friedkin’s horrific spookshow, audiences have been petrified of the film’s enduring ability to terrify even modern audiences, with contemporary genre pieces constantly marketing themselves as ‘The Next Exorcist’.

Having never set out to make a horror film, director William Friedkin has long argued against such pigeonholing, telling Cinephilia and Beyond: “We thought of it as a powerful, emotional, disturbing story. But we did not think of it in terms of a horror film, let alone a classic horror film, or a lot of the stuff that passes for horror films”.

Continuing, the director went on to explain just why The Exorcist remains such a terrifying tale, commenting: “Well, why bad things happen to good people. An innocent 12-year-old girl, who goes through extraordinary symptoms that clearly represent a disease that medical science is unable to deal with. That’s extremely disturbing to people. Because most people either have a child, or have been a child or are a child”. 

The shocking reactions to ‘The Exorcist’ premiere, 1973

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As well as an iconic filmmaker, Friedkin is also an educated purveyor of cinema, often voicing his thoughts on the great films in the history of the art form. 

Speaking to Criterion, Friedkin revealed several fascinating details about his relationship with cinema, picking out filmmakers such as Alan Resnais, Stanley Kubrick, Luis Buñuel, Michael Powell And Emeric Pressburger. In choosing some of his all-time favourite films, he picked out the likes of Belle de jour, The Night of the Hunter, The Red Shoes, Diabolique and Night and Fog.

In the midst of such discussions, Friedkin brought his attention to Le samouraï by Jean-Pierre Melville, telling Criterion that he thought the 1967 classic was the “ultimate existential gangster film”. Gushing over the quality of the film that follows a professional hitman who finds himself in a spiral of errors, Friedkin adds, “Hypnotic, detailed, ritualistic, it has influenced films like John Woo’s The Killer and the more recent Drive”.

Continuing to discuss Jean-Pierre Melville’s film based on Joan McLeod’s movie The Ronin, Friedkin adds, “Though violent in its subject matter, Jean-Pierre Melville’s film is also cool, meticulously lit, and classically framed. It operates in a kind of dream state. It’s the opposite of the fevered emotional style of most gangster films. The pauses and silences help make it the visual equivalent of Harold Pinter’s dialogue”. 

A lesser-known classic of the 1960s, Le Samouraï is a sleek, stylish crime movie starring Alain Delon, François Périer and Nathalie Delon that deserves a whole lot more attention, check out the trailer, below.