William Friedkin is one of my favorite interviews. He gave me this epic gem back when Killer Joe was released last year and he’s always engaging and honest (and never less than entertaining). It also doesn’t hurt that he made one of the best horror movies of all time – The Exorcist.
That film is now out in a wonderful 40th Anniversary Edition from Warner Bros. I haven’t gotten through all of the special features yet, but the transfer is tremendous and the booklet culls together some great passages from his autobiography, “The Friedkin Connection.” The release features both the Extended Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Version along with new special features (including “Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist” and “Talk of the Devil“).
Naturally when I was offered the opportunity to speak with Mr. Friedkin again while he signed copies of the Blu and book at the wonderful horror boutique Dark Delicacies, I immediately accepted. I sat with him for almost 3 hours as he signed hundreds of autographs and granted nearly as many photo opportunities to the throng of fans that descended upon the store (kudos to the wonderful staff at Delicacies for handling the crowd so well).
I got a lot of stuff from him that I plan to dole out eventually (a lot of which focussed on Sorcerer and To Live And Die In LA), but I figured I’d share his thoughts on this new era of The Exorcist first. Check it out below!
So, with both cuts together is this your definitive home video release? “Probably. I’ve always been happy with the first version I released. But what’s called the “Extended Director’s Cut” is actually the first cut I did. I took 12 minutes out of it because I thought it was too long. Over the years [William Peter] Blatty asked if I would consider putting them back. And 27 years later I put them back. I really did it because I felt, ‘why not? It’s been out for 27 years so why shouldn’t Blatty have the version he originally loved?’ I like the stuff we put back. At the very least there’s an extra minute and a half at the end with Lee J. Cobb, and that’s always a good thing.”
What’s your favorite of the special features? “I got them the stuff with Father Gallagher. That was Blatty’s religious instructor at Georgetown. He came into Blatty’s class with the news that there had been a demonic possession and exorcism in that diocese. He’s the guy that introduced Blatty to this actual case. That was in 1949. And the year ‘The Exorcist’ came out, Father Gallagher gave an interview to WCAU in Philadelphia in which he read from the diary of the priests involved in the actual case. And the guy who did the interview sent me a DVD of it and said, ‘if you can use this I own it.’ And I sent it to Warner Bros. and they thought it was tremendous and made an arrangement with him to put it on as an extra.”
When you’re doing a Blu-ray like this, do you have approval over the transfers? “Absolutely. I make them. I say, ‘more red. More blue. Darker. Lighter. All that stuff. It takes months. And when new technology comes out I upgrade it. When 4K came out we upgraded from 2K. And I often change my mind about stuff. Today [Friedkin is restoring ‘The Exorcist’ for a theatrical re-release] when I was doing the DCP I reduced the chroma in the hospital scene to almost black and white. It looks more like a hospital now than it ever did. It’s all fluorescent lighting, with no warm lights. I did three reels today.”
The 40th Anniversary is a good chance to get it out in front of a new audience. “Always. A lot of these guys [in line] weren’t even born when we made the film. And the extras can get a whole new generation intrigued. Warner Bros. is probably the best preservation company in Hollywood. I think they equal Criterion in terms of the legacy stuff they put out with a whole bunch of TLC. They’re just wonderful. Did I have any idea 40 years ago that people would be watching this today? No. The technology wasn’t available. And because of the tremendous progress that home video has made, I’m thrilled when these things come out. I support them as much as I can.”
What’s the most difficult part of the process for you? “It’s not difficult. You just go onto the next thing. Life is difficult for a great many people, and I understand that. But I can’t say that anything I’ve ever done has been difficult. I’ve been very lucky. I never went to film school, I just sort of picked it up. I never had a lesson, it was just watching the films of others by which I learned how to do it myself.”