Even though I’m a huge movie buff, I rarely make film recommendations.  That’s mostly because everyone has different taste, and I like lots of boring artsy films that many of my readers would hate.  But Sorcerer is an exception.  Friday night I joined a sellout crowd at Harvard, and then afterwards we were entertained for an hour by the director (William Friedkin), who had lots of great stories.  The film has been beautifully restored, and Friedkin insists the visuals and sound are much better than even the original 1977 release (which I saw twice in 1977, something I rarely do.)  Try to see it on the big screen.

The film was one of a string of intense macho films from the late 1970s, including Taxi Driver (1976), The Deer Hunter (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), and to a lesser extent The Shining (1980).  Somehow it got lost in the shuffle, despite being one of the great films of the 1970s, which was a great decade for Hollywood.  Friedkin is better known for The French Connection, The Exorcist, To Live and Die in LA, etc., but he said this is the one film he wants to be remembered for, and I agree that it’s his best. In the discussion afterwards I noticed that many of the women in the audience were blown away by the film, so it’s not just something that would appeal to men.

It was released the same year as Star Wars, which might have hurt its box office.  I loved Star Wars, but in retrospect it led Hollywood down the road to predicable corporate “spandex and CGI” superhero films, a result that both Friedkin and I lament.  I miss seeing great action films that looked real. Of course if my dad were alive he’d be complaining they don’t make films like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance anymore. It’s all relative.  By the way, Friedkin says Sorcerer was influenced by that great John Huston film, as well as Wages of Fear, the earlier French take on the same book that inspired Sorcerer (and also a great film, maybe even better.)

Friedkin said he didn’t attend college and barely finished high school, although he’s obviously well read and pretty intelligent.  Yet his films also remind me a bit of James Cameron.  The dialog is certainly far superior to Cameron films (a low bar), yet as with Cameron the overall impact is more visceral than intellectual.  He’s superb at the technical side of filmmaking.

Friedkin had lots of funny stories, unfortunately some I can’t repeat here. Like me, he seems obsessed with the “anxiety of influence” concept.  He talks about how it’s all in Citizen Kane.  He’s said he’s glad he didn’t see the works of Buster Keaton until after the French Connection, as he would have been embarrassed to try a car chase scene after seeing Keaton’s masterful chases.  On the other hand, how can any director attempt a “shaky rope bridge in the jungle” scene after Sorcerer?  And I’m almost certain that Sorcerer influenced Apocalypse Now, and some of the Tarantino films.

Friedkin also said the 1970s films couldn’t be made today, as there are now so many “audience tests” and other forms of corporate interference that originality is increasingly difficult.  Maybe that’s why the spectacular action films of today are often less original than the small films with low budgets. He said that back in the 70s the studios let directors pretty much do as they wanted.

Some other bloggers recently debated the merits of calling it quits at age 75.  I’m tempted to quote the old saying; “Give me the first 6 years of a child’s life and you can have the rest.”  Beyond my family, it’s things like next month’s career retrospective of Hou Hsiao-hsien at Harvard that would be the main thing stopping me from pulling the plug at 75, in the unlikely event I get that far.



11 Responses to “Sorcerer”

  1. Gravatar of David R. Henderson David R. Henderson
    28. September 2014 at 14:19

    Re last paragraph, note two things.
    (1) It’s at about age 6 that compulsory schooling begins. Hmmm.
    (2) For me, it’s about the first 12 years. 13 through 16 were really hard.

  2. Gravatar of benjamin cole benjamin cole
    28. September 2014 at 15:28

    Wages of Fear was a good movie…and every scene in The Treasure of Sierra Madre a small gem…

  3. Gravatar of justin justin
    28. September 2014 at 16:17

    I’m sure plenty of your readers (like me) enjoy “boring artsy films.” The fact that you cite Hou Hsiao-Hsien as a reason for living gives me plenty of reason to trust your taste.

  4. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    28. September 2014 at 19:22

    It’s all relative. AAAAARGH!!!! You don’t mean that: you’re entire blog is dedicated to the proposition that this is not true. This very post is about excellence. “It depends on your perspective/where you stand/your experience”, yes, fine. But it’s not “all relative”. (After all, what is “it’s all relative” relative to?)

  5. Gravatar of Blue Aurora Blue Aurora
    28. September 2014 at 19:34

    You’re welcome, Professor Sumner. Does Bentley University have a subscription to either the History of Economics Review or History of Economic Ideas?

  6. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    28. September 2014 at 19:43

    Which Hou Hsiao-hsien do you recommend starting with?

  7. Gravatar of BP BP
    28. September 2014 at 20:24

    I agree Sorcerer is a cracker. I seem to remember Friedkin thought the film needed Steve McQueen to be a big hit as the audience spends so much time staring into the main character’s eyes.

  8. Gravatar of Blue Aurora Blue Aurora
    28. September 2014 at 21:06

    Professor Sumner, I hate the fact I posted my earlier comment in the wrong window. Could you please fix that?

  9. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. September 2014 at 05:15

    David, For me it was the first 14 years, then . . . . . .

    Ben, I agree.

    Justin, I do year end reviews, but they aren’t very interesting. If you haven’t seen it, you might check out my post on “Naughty and Nice films of the Oughts.”

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. September 2014 at 05:18

    Lorenzo, OK, that’s sloppy language.

    Blue, I’m not sure.

    Saturos, Perhaps City of Sadness. I just watch whatever shows in Boston on the big screen. I’ve never seen one on TV, and would have no interest.

    BP, Yes, he would have been better.

    Blue, Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter.

  11. Gravatar of John Hall John Hall
    6. October 2014 at 04:36

    Scott, I recommend Wages of Fear over Sorcerer.

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