Billy Friedkin, who died today at 87, remains a uniquely unforgettable figure to his friends and colleagues — an eternal contradiction, both cantankerous yet kindly, argumentative yet thoughtful. He was a brilliant creator of popular entertainment but, to his close friends, also was brooding and cerebral.
Typically in his final days, Friedkin was looking forward to visiting Venice for the festival screening of his newest movie, a remake of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial for Showtime. At the same time, he was prepping an opera that he would direct in Florence.
Friedkin loved talking about film and filmmakers but was equally comfortable discussing the literary works of Marcel Proust, the revered French novelist, or the intricacies of Mozart. His 1991 marriage to Sherry Lansing, one time Paramount studio chief, created a power couple of vast influence in film, music and philanthropy (she was a former studio chief at Paramount and is chairman of Universal Music). Together and separately they have raised hundreds of millions in support of a wide range of non profits and brought attention to sectors of the arts and education that were in need of support and celebrity clout.
Although forging ahead with new ventures until the end, Friedkin loved to revisit his past and the characters who inspired him. I reunited him two years ago with Norman Lloyd, the brilliant actor and director who nurtured Friedkin’s Hollywood career when he first worked as a director of Alfred Hitchcock television thrillers. “I was a dumb kid, and you saved my butt,” Friedkin told Lloyd.
When Friedkin went over budget on his first show, Lloyd urged Hitchcock to be patient with his talented if impetuous neophyte. Friedkin, it turned out, had been a fan of Lloyd in his early stage career, and they remained friends until Lloyd died in 2021 at age 107.
Friedkin sustained a close relationship with several fellow filmmakers who rose to prominence in the ‘70s, but, consistent with his impatient nature, the relationships occasionally were edgy. As a member of the Directors Company with Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich, Friedkin bore co-responsibility for approving production of their films (the Directors Company could greenlight their productions and had full approvals).
But Friedkin declined to make a film of his own for the company and agreed only to approve Coppola’s 1974 masterpiece The Conversation, declining to endorse Bogdanovich’s Daisy Miller. Despite Orson Welles agreeing to serve as a co-producer, Friedkin felt the project was literary and self-indulgent and withdrew from the entity, much to Coppola’s irritation. Friedkin and Coppola became close friends once again in recent years and exchanged ideas about their work.
Friedkin’s controversial preproduction design for The French Connection was a vivid reflection of his attitudes toward his craft and its rigid protocols. He refused to pursue the usual process of persuasion and bribery with local officials, instead shooting the action scenes without proper permits and clearances. In creating some key scenes of police pursuit, Friedkin personally operated the camera, defying the warnings of his crew.
The movie won wide praise for its brilliant chases and vibrant performances.
Content Source: deadline.com