Tuesday, March 23, 2010

1971: The French Connection (William Friedkin)

1971: The French Connection (William Friedkin)
Easily the biggest influence on my first feature, The Last Lullaby.  I love the way this Friedkin film looks, and I love the way it sounds.  


Let's start with the look.  The cinematographer, Owen Roizman, has a pretty impressive body of work.  Aside from this marvel, he was also responsible for the look of The Exorcist, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Three Days of the Condor, Network, and Straight Time. What I love most about his work here is that it is both raw and painterly at the same time.  Usually I find movies that are gritty and raw not terribly pleasing on an aesthetic level.  And the films that I consider extremely refined on a visual level can often be a little distancing.  But here Friedkin and Roizman are able to combine, in a unique way, intimacy and painterly.  


As for its sound, the film mostly relies on ambient noises to propel it forward.  There is very little music.  And when music is used, it's usually between rather than during scenes.


I also love Friedkin's use of the zoom in the film.  And both the extended, wordless opening and abrupt ending continue to be references for me.  I still think this stands as one of the high points of Hollywood naturalism, and a tremendous hybrid of art and entertainment.  I would argue that much of Michael Mann's early style comes from this film.  And I would say that Friedkin's formal achievements here still tend to be a little undervalued.   




Other contenders for 1971: I still have several things I need to see from this year.  These include:  Roman Polanski's Macbeth, Grigori Kozintsev's King Lear, Claude Jutra's Mon oncle Antoine, Ken Russell's The Devils, Robert Bresson's Four Nights of a Dreamer, Jacques Rivette's Out 1, Jan Troell's The Emigrants, Jean Rouch's Petit a petit, Jacques Tati's Trafic, Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout, and Barbara Loden's Wanda.  I need to re-watch Don Siegel's Dirty Harry as it's been to long since I've seen it to know where it'd place on this list. Meanwhile, from this year, I really like Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs and Francois Truffaut's Two English Girls.  I love Alan Pakula's Klute. And my closest runner-up (and one of my other favorite films of all time) is Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller.  


7/27/11 I watched Claude Jutra's Mon oncle Antoine.  A strange, atonal coming of age flick that never fully connected with me.  


10/15/11 I watched Abel Ferrara's earliest short film, Nicky's Film.  It reminded me of a surreal recreation of the finale of Shoot the Piano Player.  Short and interesting

12/16/13 I watched Mike Nichols' Carnal Knowledge.  Nichols shoots it in a very artsy way that feels more under the spell of Antonioni or Bergman than any neorealist influence.   I found it too theatrical though rambling more than building towards anything. 

1/12/14 I watched Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout.  There is much to admire here - Roeg's cinematography is powerful and the two young actors very effective, and the opening sequence until the kids go off into the outback is among the strongest I have ever seen.  Emtionally however Roeg's sensibility eludes me at times, and I am left feeling more squeamish or confused than connected for the ride.  

12 comments:

  1. My Own #1 Film of 1971:

    The Last Picture Show (Bogdonovich; USA)

    Runners-Up:

    Mon Oncle Antoine (Jutra; Canada)
    A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick; UK/USA)
    The Emigrants (Troell; Sweden)
    Blanche (Borowczyk; France)
    The Ceremony (Oshima; Japan)
    The Devils (Russell; UK)
    Fiddler on the Roof (Jewison; USA)
    Love (Makk; Hungary)
    McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Altman; USA)
    The Go-Between (Losey; UK)
    Mac Beth (Polanski; UK; France; USA)
    Murmur of the Heart (Malle; France)
    Pink Flamingos (Waters; USA)
    Third Part of the Night (Zulawski; Poland)
    Walkabout (Roeg; Australia)
    Straw Dogs (Peckinpah; USA)
    Harold and Maude (Ashby; USA)

    THE FRENCH CONNECTION s a solid thriller, but for me it doesn't figure onto any best list of this year, as I think I resented the fact that it won the Oscar in a year when Mssrs. Bogdonovich, Kubrick, Altoman, Jutra et al deserved the award far more. But hey, your love for the film here speaks volumes, and you also vow for its influence. No question Gene Hackman was really at the top of the game, and the chase sequences are electrifying.

    My own #1 choice, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, an elegiac drama set in a dying Texas town, is not only my favorite film of this year, but it's my #1 film of the 1970's and one of my most adored films of all-time. It's one I always gush over.

    But there are six or seven other truly great films this year.

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  2. This is a great film filled such energy and vitality! I think this is due in large part to the restless, documentary-style hand-held camerawork that gives a you-are-there kind of feel to the film.

    There's also a fantastic amount of jaded cynicism that builds right up to the anti-climactic end of the film. Great stuff.

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  3. A tough year. I'd have to say it's a tie between FRENCH CONNECTION and McCABE. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE DEVILS, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, STRAW DOGS, and WALKABOUT would be close behind. MACBETH is interesting because of the sheer volume of despair that permeates the film, Polanski's first after the murder of his wife. I like DIRTY HARRY and KLUTE a lot, but for me they're strictly second-tier in the context of this year and the seventies as a whole.

    I would argue that much of Michael Mann's early style comes from this film.

    Early like JERICHO MILE? Or more like THIEF? I'd be interested in hearing how you connect it to Mann since I generally see the greatest influence on Mann coming more from Schrader's AMERICAN GIGOLO. But you may be right when you factor in Friedkin's later work in TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., which definitely seems to reside in the same universe as Mann's work.

    What I love most about his work here is that it is both raw and painterly at the same time.

    Last year's Blu-ray release of FRENCH CONNECTION was controversial because of Friedkin had revised the color timing on the film (without Roizman's involvement), making the film look a lot grainier and desaturated. Though I don't agree with his exclusion of Roizman, I think it actually works for the film and the story he is trying to tell, a rarity for me since I am usually reverential about preserving the original release of the film. Have you seen this version? If so, what are your thoughts?

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  4. Sam, thanks so much for your great comments! I absolutely owe THE LAST PICTURE SHOW more viewings. It's one I've struggled with for some reason in the past, but I know it is much revered by many.

    From your list, I still need to see BLANCHE and THE CEREMONY. I like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE although a little less than the others I mentioned.

    Thanks, Sam. Always a treat to have your perspective here!

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  5. JD, I couldn't agree more with your comments above! I particularly like this:

    "I think this is due in large part to the restless, documentary-style hand-held camerawork that gives a you-are-there kind of feel to the film."

    Thanks, JD. Always a treat to have you here!

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  6. Tony, wow, great comments!

    When I made that statement about Mann, I was thinking more of THIEF, MANHUNTER, and HEAT (I think Mann's style made a pretty substantial shift starting with THE INSIDER). Probably because it was early and a TV movie, JERICHO MILE has never felt like a fully formed work to me.

    I see many connections between the two filmmakers -- the way that Mann uses natural sounds, the zoom, his indelible care for naturalistic locations, and his overall heightened naturalism. Both filmmakers approach the crime drama with documentary techniques to create something that manages to feel both real and surreal at the same time.

    Your statement about AMERICAN GIGOLO is very interesting. I've never made that connection, but now that you say it, I can certainly see it.

    Apparently, Mann's first choice for Lektor in MANHUNTER was Friedkin, which I've always thought was an interesting little tidbit.

    As for the Blu-ray release, I unfortunately haven't seen it. But thanks for letting me know. I'm definitely very curious to see the differences.

    Thanks, Tony. Always wonderful to hear from you!

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  7. I really like The French Connection too, but it has to take a backseat to Robert Altman's great western MCCABE & MRS. MILLER. Such a great performance by Beatty and one of the few westerns that captures the grime and filth that must have really been what the west was like.

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  8. Dave, this one is pretty much a toss-up for me because I truly love MCCABE, too. Thanks, Dave. Always great to hear from you!

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  9. Jeffrey Goodman:

    "I see many connections between the two filmmakers -- the way that Mann uses natural sounds, the zoom, his indelible care for naturalistic locations, and his overall heightened naturalism. Both filmmakers approach the crime drama with documentary techniques to create something that manages to feel both real and surreal at the same time."

    I agree somewhat. When it came to the overall look of Mann's films - at least up to and including ALI, they are very stylized with certain scenes bathed in blue (see: MANHUNTER, HEAT and ALI) and even stylized action sequences (see the jump cut technique used in THIEF and MANHUNTER). It wasn't really until the bank heist scene in HEAT that you get a bit of a FRENCH CONNECTION vibe with the cameras being right there in the middle of the action.

    THE INSIDER and ALI are some of his most stylish works and are really a world away from anything in FRENCH CONNECTION but what's most interesting is that with Mann's interest with digital cameras, he's come back to the FRENCH CONNECTION verite style in a big way with MIAMI VICE and PUBLIC ENEMIES.

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  10. For me, 1971 was one of the really great years, and it was a tough choice between The Last Picture Show, The Emigrants and McCabe and Mrs. Miller however, like Sam, I have to go with Bogdanovich’s classic. I love the B&W photography and the movie theater as a symbol of a town’s decay. This was a film that has resonated with me since I first saw it at the Columbia 1 & 2 theater.

    #1 The Last Picture Show

    Runner ups

    McCabe and Mrs Miller
    The Emigrants ( a film I wish was available of DVD)
    Klute
    MacBeth
    Straw Dogs
    Mon Oncle Antonio
    The Panic in Needle Park
    Murmur of the Heart
    A Clockwork Orange
    Walkabout
    Harold and Maude
    Taking Off
    The French Connection

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  11. JD, thanks so much for the great comments! I don't disagree that his later films (particularly the digital ones) have more of the F CONNECTION verite camera style. But in terms of sheer naturalism, I still feel a greater similarity between Mann's earlier work (THIEF, MANHUNTER, and HEAT) and the Friedkin film.

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  12. John, thanks so much for the great comments! I still need to see THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK and TAKING OFF. And I like MURMUR OF THE HEART and HAROLD AND MAUDE although a little less than the ones I mention above.

    Thanks, John. Always great to have your perspective here!

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