IT IS A DARK TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.
Studios are haemorrhaging money as bloated, big-budget spectacles are rejected by fatigued audiences — specifically the much-coveted and ever-fickle younger demographic. But then emerging technology, enabling dramatically lower production costs, finds its way into the hands of a new generation of hungry filmmakers who will change the industry forever. The year is 1971. At the cutting edge of cinema’s new wave is director William Friedkin, fresh from his groundbreaking The Boys In The Band. Ahead of him lie such films as The Exorcist, Cruising,
Sorcerer and To Live And Die In LA. But first will come a police drama based on the true account of a 1960s narcotics investigation in New York City, a case that became known as ‘The French Connection’. Friedkin meets with the cops who broke the case, detectives Sonny Grosso and Eddie Egan. Their subsequent friendship will result in a conspiracy to commit cinema.
When I floated the idea of sitting down with Friedkin to discuss the 45th anniversary of his oft-imitated and never-surpassed masterpiece, Empire immediately said yes. Which is how we wound up in New York in mid-august at Chazz Palminteri’s Ristorante Italiano with Friedkin and Grosso, still going strong in their eighties, to discuss the making of a film that would make stars of Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider; and that remains the gold standard for the docudrama, the police procedural, the buddy/cop movie, the car chase and the precarious art of hand-held filmmaking.
Left: William Friedkin makes his point. Above right: Christopher Mcquarrie mid-debate. Below: Sonny Grosso enjoys a glass of red.