Su­per­hero movies are ru­in­ing cin­ema, says ‘Ex­or­cist’ di­rec­tor

The China Post - - ARTS - BY SO­PHIE LAUBIE

Wil­liam Fried­kin, the U.S. di­rec­tor who made the Os­car-win­ning movies “The Ex­or­cist” and “The French Con­nec­tion,” is dis­mis­sive about the flood of su­per­hero and sci-fi movies that have taken over to­day’s box of­fice.

“Films used to be rooted in grav­ity. They were about real peo­ple do­ing real things,” the ac­claimed 79-year-old film­maker told AFP as he at­tended the Champs-El­y­sees Film Fes­ti­val in Paris.

To­day, he said, “cin­ema is all about ‘Bat­man,’ ‘Su­per­man,’ ‘Iron Man,’ ‘Avengers,’ ‘Hunger Games’ in Amer­ica: all kinds of stuff that I have no in­ter­est in see­ing at all.”

That race by stu­dios to ap­peal to the broad­est au­di­ence pos­si­ble is why his own movies fell out of fa­vor af­ter his peak in the 1970s, he ad­mit­ted.

“That is when my films went like that — out of the frame.”

Fried­kin says he saw the change hap­pen in 1977 when he made what he con­sid­ered his best movie — the largely ig­nored “Sorcerer,” about four men trans­port­ing a cargo of ni­tro­glyc­erin in South Amer­ica — only to see it eclipsed by the huge hit of that year: “Star Wars.”

Now Fried­kin reck­ons “the best work” for di­rec­tors is on tele­vi­sion, on U.S. ca­ble and video-on­de­mand ser­vices that pro­duce qual­ity se­ries such as “True De­tec­tive” and “House of Cards.” The shift to those out­lets, he said, is the “new zeit­geist.”

“You de­velop char­ac­ter at a greater length and the story is more com­plex and deeper than cin­ema,” the di­rec­tor said.

“Many of the fine film­mak­ers of to­day are go­ing to long-form TV. It is the most wel­com­ing place to work for a di­rec­tor to­day.”

Fried­kin is look­ing to ride that wave, work­ing on a script for the HBO ca­ble net­work about Mae West, the Amer­i­can sex sym­bol and en­ter­tainer counted as one of Hol­ly­wood’s big­gest ever stars. He has spo­ken to Bette Mi­dler about play­ing the part.

He is also look­ing at turn­ing another of his big films, “To Live and Die in LA,” into a TV se­ries, with dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters and plot.

Good vs. Evil

If his past work serves as in­spi­ra­tion for what he’s do­ing to­day, it’s in no small part due to the fact that he has long been fas­ci­nated by the time­less theme of good ver­sus evil.

“Most of my films are about the thin line be­tween good and evil that ex­ists in ev­ery­one,” he said.

“I be­lieve that within all of us, there is a good side and a dark side. And it’s a con­stant strug­gle to have your good side tri­umph over the dark side. And some­times peo­ple don’t and lose con­trol of them­selves.”

Although his NYC-cop-in-France movie “The French Con­nec­tion” and the de­mon pos­ses­sion drama “The Ex­or­cist” made him a star di­rec­tor at the time, his later films never scaled such heights.

But Fried­kin re­sisted go­ing back and do­ing the se­quels to his mas­ter­pieces, say­ing it would have been purely about the money.

“I am not in­ter­ested” in mak­ing movies just for the pay-check, Fried­kin said. “I have to love the film, the story, the char­ac­ters.”

His “Ex­or­cist” movie “was enough,” he said. “There were four se­quels to ‘The Ex­or­cist’ and I’ve seen none of them, nor do I want to or in­tend to.”

Like­wise, with 1971’ s “The French Con­nec­tion,” which starred Gene Hack­man and won five Os­cars, “there was noth­ing more that could be said.”

That de­mur­ral didn’t stop the pro­duc­tion of a 1975 se­quel, also with Hack­man and di­rected by John Franken­heimer, who no­tably made the orig­i­nal “The Manchurian Can­di­date.”

Fried­kin, how­ever, placed “Sorcerer” well above “The Ex­or­cist” and “The French Con­nec­tion” as he looked over his half-cen­tury ca­reer and 20 films.

That movie, star­ring Roy Schei­der, was the one that emerged clos­est to his orig­i­nal vi­sion, he said, and dealt with a theme that he holds dear — fate.

“If I am re­mem­bered at all for any­thing, I hope it would be that,” said the di­rec­tor.

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