William Friedkin, not just The Exorcist. Three films by the American director to recover

William Friedkin believed in fate. For the American director, who died on August 7 at the age of 87, everything had to do with the mystery of faith or fate. So much so that in the documentary In the mind of the Exorcist he recounted the origin of his passion for directing with these words: “I don’t know how I got into the world of cinema, considering where I come from. I lived in a one-room apartment in Chicago with my parents. (…)After high school, at the age of 20, I started working in logistics for a TV channel in Chicago. I never went to university. One day by chance a friend told me that they were making a movie at the Surf cinema, and it was Fourth Estate. I went to see him in the afternoon and stayed for the rest of the day. I was simply amazed. When I left the cinema at midnight, I thought: I don’t know why but I want to do this”.

An Oscar-worthy director

Undoubtedly the electrocution on the road to Damascus caused by the vision of Welles’ masterpiece proved to be a winning choice for Friedkin. With The Violent Arm of the Law won 5 Academy Awards (film, direction, leading actor, adapted screenplay, editing); with The Exorcist, for many the most terrifying film ever, it rewrote the history of horror cinema. But once again fate has proved mocking. The hype caused by the film based on the novel by William Blatty and the power of those frightening images have overshadowed the other works of the American filmmaker. As if the malevolent Pasusu, vain like any demon, wants all the attention for himself. So let’s rediscover three films that testify to how varied, surprisingly rich the filmography of this strong-willed and talented filmmaker is.

Birthday party for dear friend Harold (1970)

Wiliam Friedkin, who has never lacked courage, signs the first Hollywood film that openly addresses the issue of homosexuality. Based on the play by Mart Crowley The Boys in the Band, a gay and cruel kammerspiel. A game of massacre in which the frailties, weaknesses and grudges of a group of New York homosexuals are revealed. The presence of a heterosexual character transforms Harold’s party into a ferocious collective psychoanalytic session. Thanks to a claustrophobic direction that transports the viewer inside the story, Friedkin tells of the inability to accept oneself. Superbly acted, a feature film light years away from silly rhetoric and net of some lengthiness still absolutely valid today. Because it is a film that speaks above all of the universal fear of being alone. So much so that it was remade in 2020 by Netfix, in a work produced by Ryan Murphy


William Friedkin never liked winning easy. So after the epochal success of The Exorcist decides to make a film based on the novel Lives Sold by George Arnaud. The book had already been brought to the screen by George Clozout in a feature film unanimously considered a masterpiece in the history of cinema. But the director is not afraid of challenges. As a devotee of the documentary filming style, he makes the story of four characters on the run even more raw and disturbing, who in exchange for a large sum of money agree to drive two trucks loaded with explosives for two hundred miles in the jungle of Central America. As it happens in Hand robbery army, or The Treasury of the Sierra Madre there will be no compensation at the end. Not even for the feature film which was a flop. As Friedkin himself stated: “The result was the most difficult, frustrating and dangerous film I have ever made, a film that I paid dearly in terms of both my health and my reputation”. Precisely for this reason it is necessary to recover a formidable e maudit action movie with the rhythm of the music of Tangerine Dream.


Friedkin ended up in limbo. Hollywood snubs him and no longer considers him an A-list director after the latest fiascos. But when he falls into his hands To Live and Die in Los Angelesthe novel written by Gerald Petievich, a former agent of the United States Secret Service, decides to face a new challenge. To live and die in Los Angeles is the other side of the coin of The Violent Arm of the Law. An action movie centered on federal agent Richard Chance (William Petersen), engaged in hunting down the painter and forger Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe), responsible for the murder of an elderly colleague close to retirement. The director explains the sense of the operation thus: “I didn’t want the film to be a copy of The Violent Arm of the Law. Instead of the macho and rough look of that film, I wanted something more similar to the unisex style of Los Angeles in the eighties”. with one of the most spectacular car chases in the history of cinema.An action movie as powerful as a long island in comparison to which many of the contemporary action films seem like soft beers.