This piece was initially published on Much Ado About Cinema in October 2018.
The first words we hear uttered by William Friedkin are, “To me, the two most interesting characters in the history of the world are Hitler and Jesus. There’s good and evil in everybody, that’s the truth that I believe.” Admittedly, this is a jarring way to begin a documentary. Friedkin then qualifies his statement by saying that Hitler was an example of a man who contained extremes, to make sure the audience doesn’t misconstrue his words. This controversial statement embodies the Friedkin we are shown in the documentary, Friedkin Uncut: he is a man who is fascinated by and tries to embody extremes.
Friedkin Uncut is Francesco Zippel’s directorial debut and love song to director, William Friedkin, who brought us films such as The Exorcist, The French Connection, and Bug. This documentary premiered as part of Chicago International Film Festival’s programming, rather appropriately as Friedkin is a Chicago native. It is an expansive look at Friedkin’s work, his dedication to his craft, and the lengths he was willing to go to make something spectacular. From shooting the chase scene in The French Connection himself to even assisting with an exorcism, there’s no doubt that Friedkin always went to the extreme to create a film that no one had ever seen before. However, this documentary is also, perhaps subconsciously, an in-depth look at the rampant gender inequality in Hollywood.
Friedkin Uncut is a fascinating documentary about a fascinating director. Friedkin redefined a genre with The Exorcist, a feat that no horror fan can deny. But in learning about Friedkin’s rise to fame, and seeing the directors interviewed to speak about him, the white male hegemony of Hollywood is reinforced. Yes, he praises Kathryn Bigelow, but she isn’t interviewed. Instead, Damien Chazelle is put on camera, beaming at Friedkin’s declaration that he is the future of cinema. Yes, Ellen Burstyn from The Exorcist and Juno Temple from Killer Joe are interviewed about working with Friedkin on set – but they are two women among the countless men that wax poetic about Friedkin and sing his praises.
For those who are interested in auteurs, auteur theory, and learning about the history of one director, this will be the documentary for you. It is an in-depth look at 1970s and 1980s filmmaking, after all, with appearances from Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, and Wes Anderson. But, if you’re looking for a documentary that tries to say something interesting or groundbreaking about cinema, you may wish to look elsewhere.