I left my friend Michael to head over to the Chinese IMAX Theater for the screening of The French Connection on Saturday Night. This is another of those seventies classics that were made in that ten year period when the lunatics were in charge of the asylum. I’d watched “The Seven Ups” just a couple of weeks ago, and while it is not a sequel to “The French Connection” it sure feels like it. The Producer was the same for both films, Roy Scheider stars and the gritty streets of New York are the sets. Both films also feature smashing car chases.
The host for our screening was again Alec Baldwin, and he would be interviewing William Friedkin after the movie. I have admired a number of actors through the years. I never joined any fan club and I’m not a twelve year old Judy Garland singing to a picture of Clark Gable, but Gene Hackman has always been my favorite star. He is an everyday type, who looks like a guy you could run into in a boardroom, a back alley, or a grocery store. This is the film that elevated him to star status. While he had two Academy Award nominations behind him when cast in this movie, he was not seen as a leading man. Friedkin explained how the studio and he wanted a number of other actors before they settled on Hackman. It is difficult for me to believe that they wanted Jackie Gleeson for the part and that he did not get it because his previous movie had bombed. The audience, Baldwin and Friedkin all seemed to enjoy making fun of “Gigot”. Paul Newman and Peter Boyle were also considered but Newman would have used up most of the budget and Boyle was not really interested after playing a similar personality in “Joe” a year before.
Friedkin and Baldwin never sit down for their discussion. They stalk the platform at the front of the stage and direct their questions and answers all over the theater. Now I have heard William Friedkin on a number of other programs over the years and I knew it would be an interesting conversation. He is fearless in expressing his opinion and he is also free with information. Baldwin would not have to do any coaxing to get him going on a subject.
If anyone has read about the making of “The French Connection”, than you know that it was done almost in a guerrilla style. The New York authorities and the corrupt officials that worked in many of the departments wanted fees and stipends and insurance bonds that would have crippled the film and were largely being made up on the spot. There was one scene that a permit was obtained for and it cost them $30,000. On a film budgeted at $1.5 million, you can see the cash draining away quickly. They decided on a strategy of “better to ask forgiveness than permission’ for the rest of the movie, including the famous car chase. They sometimes had to outrun the New York transit police when they were filming on the subways.
One thing that was different about this guest appearance was that the audience was invited to ask some questions as well and two microphones were set up out on the right and left sides of the house. The first question was a little misunderstood by the two hosts but it lead to an interesting answer about preview screenings. The second question concerned the sound design of the film and it was asked by TCM fan and Academy award Nominee John Singleton, the director of “Boys in the Hood”. He stood in line to get to his question like everyone else and Friedkin was more than happy to answer it and also give him a shout out from the front of the crowd. The movie had started at nine, then finished at eleven, but it was closer to twelve thirty when we finally got out of there.
This was just a brief clip of the perspective I had and the energy that Friedkin brings to the experience.