One of the pioneers of the New Hollywood movement in American cinema, William Friedkin is known for creating some of the most definitive classics from that period such as The French Connection and The Exorcist. His films continue to entertain and move newer generations of audiences who get to witness the breadth of his artistic vision in a different sociopolitical framework.
Out of all his films, Friedkin’s 1973 supernatural thriller The Exorcist is the most popular but he never considered it to be a horror film. In an interview, he said that he thought that the story was “very powerful, and I thought would be cinematic. But I never thought in terms of horror films, like the ones that I appreciated, like Psycho and Diabolique, and Onibaba, and a handful of others. They are clearly horror films, and I didn’t think of The Exorcist to be one of them when I made it. Now I understand that the public thinks of it that way, so I don’t dispute it.”
He also commented on the disconnect between streaming services and cinema in today’s world: “There are much more interesting things being done, unfortunately, in streaming and on cable television than there are on movie screens. In this country, anyway, but in many other countries also. The whole idea of the art film, or experimental films, receiving an audience in theatres has virtually disappeared from the United States and so many other countries, except in fringe areas. And when I was growing up it was a staple of cinema.”
For Criterion’s periodic top 10 feature, Friedkin was invited to select some of his favourite films of all time and his selection certainly explains his own filmmaking sensibilities to a large extent. To the delight of fans, Friedkin created an impressive, eclectic list that contains masterpieces from several parts of the world.
While talking about Stanley Kubrick’s war masterpiece Paths of Glory, the director said: “If 1956’s The Killing set the scene for a visionary new director, Paths of Glory, released a year later confirms it. Adapted from a novel that had appeared two decades earlier, the film has gained stature over the years. It is the darkest evocation of war ever filmed; you feel the pain, the fear and discomfort experienced by French soldiers engaged in a meaningless, suicidal battle with a faceless German enemy.”
He also explained why he thought that Le samouraï was one of the greatest gangster films ever made: “The ultimate existential gangster film. Hypnotic, detailed, ritualistic, it has influenced films like John Woo’s The Killer and the more recent Drive. Alain Delon gives his most memorable performance as an ice-cold assassin above such mundane concerns as moral conscience. 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.”
Featuring the criminally under-watched French Gems as well as Japanese cult classics, see the entire list of William Friedkin’s favourite cinematic masterpieces of all time below.
William Friedkin’s 10 favourite films:
- The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
- Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, 1956)
- Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961)
- Diabolique (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1955)
- Ordet (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1955)
- The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948)
- Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957)
- Le samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967)
- Vengeance Is Mine (Shōhei Imamura, 1979)
- Belle de jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967)
Out of all the brilliant films listed above, Friedkin chose Luis Buñuel’s Belle de jour as his favourite: “A thriller wrapped inside an enigma, this is my desert island disc, the one I’ve watched more than any other on this list. The psychology of the characters is revealed slowly and ambiguously. Each time I see the wheelchair (the husband’s fantasy) and hear the sound of the horse-and-carriage bells (the wife’s), and the way the two achieve harmony in the final scene, I’m reminded of Luis Buñuel’s ability to fuse reality and illusion in his characters and for the viewer. “
Continuing, “He performs this magic in plain view, like the best magicians. This is the film that illustrates that Catherine Deneuve is not only one of the world’s most beautiful women but a fine actress. Belle de jour is truly subversive in its satiric depiction of middle-class society, the church, and our social mores. If a ratings board ever understood this film, it would receive an NC-17, though there is no sex and little violence.”