With forty years in filmmaking—and thirty since the powerhouse duo of The French Connection and The Exorcist—how does Friedkin, whose prolific career has been characterized by huge ups and downs, classic hits and costly flops, keep his passion? "I just love doing it," he says flatly. "It's like [composer Gustav] Mahler, who wrote ten symphonies and none of them were successful, but he just kept writing them. Now there's not an orchestra in the world that doesn't have to program Mahler."I confess that I've always liked Friedkin for doing his best to actually be the rampaging egomaniac that people imagine all Hollywood directors are. The comparison does raise an interesting question, though: is there a correspondence between Mahler's symphonic output and Friedkin's cinematic oeuvre? Does the First Symphony reveal new facets placed side-by-side with Sonny & Cher in Good Times? Are the hammer blows in the Sixth the nitro-laden truck in Sorcerer or the reviews of Cruising? And what of the long-lost link between the Eighth Symphony and The Exorcist? Susan McClary could have a field day with this.
Friedkin's career has alternated between brilliant and awful (sometimes in the same movie), but he's never dull, and really, anyone whose CV includes The French Connection—one of the all-time great, brainy thrill rides in any medium—is entitled to a certain amount of cockiness. Friedkin's recent forays into opera direction have gotten mixed reviews, but you know there's a doozy of a production in that brain somewhere. If I were in Peter Gelb's chair, I'd be lining up Friedkin, Coppola, Scorsese, and Ken Russell for a mini-season at the Met.