Movies

Sorcerer

Director William Friedkin brings a rare 35mm print of 'Sorcerer'
to San Jose's Camera Club.
WHERE'S TRIPLE-A WHEN YOU NEED THEM: Roy Scheider pays a really steep bridge toll in William Friedkin's 'Sorcerer.'

WILLIAM FRIEDKIN, exponent of the boldest decade in the history of the movies, comes to San Jose with a 35mm print of his best film for a free screening. The director's follow-up to his best-known film, The Exorcist (1974), sounds like another tale of the supernatural, but it wasn't quite.

Sorcerer (1977) is a remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's French classic The Wages of Fear (1953). It's a phantasmagorical epic of doomed men languishing in a Central American backwater. The exiles (Roy Scheider is the best-known actor among them) are given a suicide mission hauling rotting, volatile nitroglycerine over hundreds of miles of bad road to an oil derrick fire.

Friedkin's work often has a scary side, as seen in his new memoir, The Friedkin Connection (Harper; $29.99). But Friedkin notes that Sorcerer was "the most difficult, dangerous and frustrating film I've ever made."

He explains, "It's a miracle no one was seriously injured or killed. I was much younger, and I had no fear, but I did things I wouldn't do today—a number of things that put people's lives in danger." I ask if he'd ever seen the late Les Blank's Burden of Dreams about Werner Herzog's similar jungle-filmmaking mania on Fitzcarraldo. He admits, "In watching that movie, I thought Herzog was crazy. But I did all of that, and worse."

The screening of Sorcerer was facilitated by Tim Sika of KSJS's long-running Celluloid Dreams show as a sort of field trip for the long-lived Camera Cinema Club. Seats are limited, but the club is accepting reservations at sorcererscreening@gmail.com.

Friedkin started lawsuits to be able to get a 35mm print of Sorcerer. After this screening at downtown San Jose's last remaining theater with a 35mm projector, "I'm putting the print to bed," Friedkin declares.

It's not the end for Sorcerer, however, which will be released in a Blu-Ray version this fall. Friedkin will be watching a screening of the digital version on his birthday (Aug. 29, 1935), which coincides with his appearance at the Venice Film Fest.

Sorcerer is as relevant today as the news of the West, Texas, fertilizer plant disaster or the latest first-person tale of running the roads of Iraq in a U.S. Army convoy. Why the film failed at the box office is a matter of opinion.

Sorcerer opened at Grauman's Chinese Theatre for one week, batting cleanup behind the far more chipper Star Wars. It's thought the critics and public alike were too grimmed out by the story to handle it.

Friedkin has his own theories. "I don't think it was the downbeat ending; it could be any number of reasons. When a film fails at the box office it might be no good or it didn't capture the zeitgeist. Citizen Kane never made money, but the numbers aren't important."

After Sorcerer, Friedkin never had another hit as big as The Exorcist. "The tunnel at the end of the light" he calls the aftermath in The Friedkin Connection. But that hasn't stopped him; his recent films are good ones: Bug—a pressure-cooker about a folie a deux of Morgellons Syndrome, starring Ashley Judd and the ever-rising Michael Shannon (Man of Steel and Boardwalk Empire). Most recently, Friedkin made the highly well-received and shocking Killer Joe, an unrated neo-noir with Matthew McConaughey.

Friedkin will show up for the San Jose screening to talk about his career and sign copies of his memoirs. See the movie and read the book, but note that there is a warning in the book that Friedkin isn't talking about who slept with whom. Instead, the fluids that fly are creative juices. A huge bribe facilitated the subway chase in The French Connection; the sequence was unstoryboarded, he claims. For Cruising, he researched mafia-owned gay sex clubs dressed only in a jockstrap.

Friedkin's fine ear—he's a frequent director of operas in Los Angeles—is reflected in Sorcerer's soundtrack, with its use of Tangerine Dream. This electronic score predates Blade Runner's Vangelis score by several years. Cruising finishes with one of my all-time-favorite soundtrack segues: a string quartet bumping up against Willy DeVille's "It's So Easy." No song could be less appropriate to describe Friedkin's half-century-long film career.

William Friedkin

sorcererscreening@gmail.com to reserve

Sunday May 5 2pm, Free

Camera 3


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