SIFF: William Friedkin on Killer Joe, His 007 Offer, The MPAA, and Citizen Kane

William Friedkin

Movieline caught up with the charismatic William Friedkin last weekend at the Seattle Film Festival, where the Exorcist/French Connection director received a Lifetime Achievement award and screened his brutal Southern-fried potboiler Killer Joe. Before he held court keeping a packed audience rapt with tales from his nearly five-decade career in film (highlights below), Friedkin stopped to discuss two of the topics he’s wrestling with these days: His legal battle to win back the rights to his 1977 pic Sorcerer, and the absurdity of the MPAA, which anointed Killer Joe with an NC-17 rating.

Friedkin is active on Twitter, which has allowed film fans unprecedented access to the Oscar-winner and given him the chance to discuss his battle for the rights to Sorcerer, his Roy Scheider-starring remake of The Wages of Fear. “I’m suing Universal and Paramount to get control of Sorcerer,” he explained to Movieline. “It evidently means a lot to people, and I want people to be able to see it.”

As with many older films, rights to Sorcerer lie out of the filmmaker’s hands – and studios, according to Friedkin, are allowing precious 35mm prints to deteriorate right under their own noses. “What’s happened to the legacy of almost all the studios is that the people who run them now don’t care,” he said. “They don’t give a damn. I know the guy from Lincoln Center, he tried to get a print of Blade Runner and Warner Bros. told him they didn’t know who owned it.”

Even in the care of studios, library titles threaten to become damaged beyond repair. Friedkin doesn’t want what happened to another ‘70s classic to happen to his film. “Paramount put out a beautiful Blu-ray of The Godfather almost two years ago,” he said. “They went to get it out of their vaults and it had deteriorated, and they had to spend over a million dollars to restore it. It’s probably the gem of their library, and they just let it go. So they don’t care about the legacy of the work that they do. I hope I win my lawsuit, and I’m going to expose what they’re doing nevertheless.”

As for his current film, Killer Joe – an assuredly brutal film whose tagline boasts “a totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story” – Friedkin has battled an old adversary: The ratings board. “The ratings board, to me, is a joke,” he said. “I never thought we’d get an NC-17, but I don’t mind the fact that we did. I had a film called Cruising that I took back there 50 times, 5-0, before they gave it an R.”

Still, Friedkin will gladly accept his NC-17. “If we had done that with Killer Joe, it wouldn’t be here tonight; it would be playing in a shorts festival on YouTube.”

**UPDATE: Mr. Friedkin Tweets us clarification on his positions regarding David Fincher and the MPAA's decision to award Killer Joe an NC-17 rating, as reported on the following page:

"You refer to me as 'the anti-Fincher.' Your characterization, not mine. I don't know David Fincher but I admire his work tremendously. I think he's one of the best film makers ever."

And on the subject of the MPAA:

"Though I stand by what I said about the ratings board, given the nature of the system, I think the NC-17 for Killer Joe is correct, and because of the courage of my distributor we did not cut the film to satisfy the Arbitrary decision of the board. -- William Friedkin."

NEXT: enjoy a Movieline 9 of highlights, anecdotes, and assorted moments from Friedkin's appearance at SIFF '12.

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  • SD says:

    I really enjoyed Sorcerer. I had seen Wages of Fear first and was very pleasantly surprised that it was not a straight remake and preferred a lot of the choices it made. The ending especially was much better.

    It is such a shame that so many films are going to disappear. I guess it is just another part of the problem of copyright and ownership. Companies fight to hang on to things for so long and then get bought and re-bought over the years until no one knows who has what.

    All that aside, it has been too long since Bug came out (My first memorable Michael Shannon experience) so I am really looking forward to his new film.

  • sosgemini says:

    Funny that the man who made the horror genre's Citizen Kane is still chasing after it.

    • Deaf Ears says:

      And arguably THE FRENCH CONNECTION is the action genre's CITIZEN KANE, it's still being ripped off right left and center 40 years after it came out. Good on Friedkin for continuing to chase that holy grail anyway.

  • Shawn Gordon says:

    My dad and I love SORCERER, saw together when I was kid. Roger Ebert even gave it four stars, it doesn't enjoy the respect it deserves for several reason 1) it opened the same day as STAR WARS 2) it's a remake of an undisputed classic 3) after THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE EXORCIST some people wanted to see Friedkin fail, just like Spielberg with 1941. I hope this will be corrected in the future, It would be great if he can get the rights to the picture and is able to get it back into theaters and on Blu-ray so that people can actually see this underrated gem.

  • David Gurr says:

    Wages of Fear is a great film that works on so many levels. The score by Tangerine Dream was a superb blend of atmosphere, tension & melody. The camera work made excellent use of locations & the director & cast worked the story into a film that has no right to deteriorate in some cellar.

    The full frame region one DVD "Sorcerer" is grainy & doesn't do this movie any justice at all.

    I had a version on Betamax for years, which I recorded from British TV & I noticed that there were edits made to the TV version, but there was a line of dialogue which is not on the DVD (a reference to the name of the place that the oil well is situated - The Devils' A**ehole. )

    I do hope that William wins the rights to the movie & restores is to it's former glory. Good Luck!