(Los Angeles) The American William Friedkin, Oscar for best director for French Connection (1971) and consecrated master of horror with The Exorcist (1973), died Monday in Los Angeles at the age of 87, according to a friend of the family.
“He died this morning,” Stephen Galloway, a former Hollywood Reporter employee, told AFP after speaking to the filmmaker’s wife. William Friedkin “worked until a few weeks ago,” he said, “but his health was declining.”
Inducted master of horror with The Exorcist, the American director William Friedkin, enfant terrible of New Hollywood and fleeting husband of Jeanne Moreau, filmed the human soul at the border between good and evil.
When The Exorcist was released in the United States in 1973, William Friedkin already had several films and documentaries to his credit. Two years earlier, French Connection propelled him among the new Hollywood generation freed from classic codes, alongside Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.
In this adaptation of Robin Moore’s novel, two New York cops try to intercept a shipment of narcotics sent by the Marseille mafia. Drugs, endless hideouts and mythical chase: the nervous thriller wins five Oscars, including that of best director.
But Friedkin really stands out as an essential filmmaker with the story of a 12-year-old girl inhabited by a demon, adapted from the novel by William Peter Blatty. The Exorcist, two Oscars and four Golden Globes in 1974, mixes horror, malaise and perversion. A non-believer, Friedkin says this classic, with a soundtrack as chilling as a cold hand on the back of the neck, is based on a “genuine” case of demonic possession.
Four decades later, he would return to the subject with The Devil and Father Amorth (2017), a documentary on the Vatican exorcist. “I will never be the same after this experience,” he said.
A fan of first takes and action scenes shot with a handheld camera, William Friedkin is also renowned for his difficult character and his stormy shoots. In The Exorcist he does not hesitate to shoot blanks near the actors or to slap them to obtain the desired reaction.
The pinnacle is reached with the catastrophic filming of the Convoy of Fear (Sorcerer): withdrawal of actors, cases of gangrene, dangerous scenes. Released in 1977, this remake of The Wages of Fear by Henri-Georges Clouzot was a commercial failure because it was eclipsed by the first Star Wars opus, but experienced an unexpected comeback when it was released in a restored version in 2015.
Born on August 29, 1935 in Chicago in a modest family, admiring Citizen Kane by Orson Welles, the young Friedkin prepared his first weapons in a Chicago TV: courier, program producer then author of a first documentary, The People vs. Paul Crump (1962), who successfully rescued a convict from the electric chair. “I realized that day the power of cinema,” he says.
Arrived in Hollywood in 1965, he shot series episodes including one for Suspicion, where a certain Alfred Hitchcock rebuffed him for not wearing a tie.
“I think that in each of us there is a good side and a dark side, and that it is a constant struggle for the good to triumph,” said William Friedkin, convinced that “the most interesting characters in world history are Jesus and Hitler.
To testify to this, the director scratches the unhealthy inclinations of his congeners: immoral thriller (Federal Police, Los Angeles, 1985), investigation by a police officer (Al Pacino) in the homosexual sado-masochistic world of New York (Cruising, 1980) , dark and bloody comedy with Matthew McConaughey (Killer Joe, 2011).
Friedkin also invites himself where we least expect him, director of the distressing clip Self control, disco hit of the starlet Laura Branigan, then director of operas in the 1990s.
A connoisseur of French cinema, he fell in love with one of its greatest actresses, Jeanne Moreau. First marriage for him, second for the heroine of Jules and Jim: their wedding celebrated in Paris in 1977 ended two years later.
Before their divorce, Jeanne Moreau instilled in him the passion of Proust. Friedkin devoured In Search of Lost Time and became a fan, traveling through the capital and Illiers-Combray in the footsteps of the writer.
Father of two sons, William Friedkin has been married three other times and lives with producer Sherry Lansing.
Decked out in his eternal aviator glasses – and still without a tie – he received, at 78, a special Golden Lion for his entire career at the 70th Venice Film Festival in 2013.