From the Oscar winning classics of the early Seventies — The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973) — to the southern trailer trash noir Killer Joe (2011), William Friedkin has been behind some of the darkest films ever to come out of Hollywood. He has also had a famously bumpy career, careening from great successes to big flops (does anyone remember Jade?). Somehow, he’s always rebounded. Currently, the 80 year old director is developing Killer Joe into a television series, set to star Nicholas Cage as the cowboy hat wearing detective/hitman played so mesmerisingly in the film by Matthew McConaughey.
At the Cannes Film Festival in May, Friedkin was basking in the sort of adoration he hadn’t known for half a lifetime. The man who reinvented the chase scene and showed how pea soup, under the right circumstances, can be the most frightening substance in the universe, was one of the festival’s most prominent guests, dropping in to present restored versions of his films and to give the annual masterclass.
In a dark blue suit and a pinstripe shirt, Friedkin is sitting in a leather chair under this year’s festival poster, an ethereal looking still from the finale of Godard’s Le Mépris that shows a man ascending majestic steps overlooking the Mediterranean. ‘I’m happy to present the films,’ he tells me. ‘And I’m happy that anyone still wants to see them, but I can’t watch them. I’ve seen all of these films maybe a thousand times. They no longer have any allure for me.’ Friedkin tiptoes out of the theatre before the movies begin.
He regrets, however, not having time to check out the other films. ‘The only way I would get to see the films is if I served on a jury. And I would never do that. Never. Because I don’t know that one film is better than another.