Still in motion
But he does bristle when passing mention is made of Peter Biskind’s gossipy take on that era: Easy Riders and Raging Bulls. He’s not buying Biskind’s argument that he and his contemporaries were arrogant 1960s decadents. “He made that book up out of old cloth: partial truths, largely lies and rumours from forgotten former wives and girlfriends. He accused the younger generation of all being potheads. But, all I can say is I have never tried drugs in my life. I have been drunk, maybe, twice in my life. I was not part of the drug generation.”
At any rate, it does seem that, as the book posits, some sort of golden era did come to a close with the release of Star Wars. The films that Friedkin favoured became harder to finance. Youth culture took over.
He continued to work. But, after the juicy To Live and Die in LA in 1985, critical and commercial hits proved hard to come by. In recent years, however, he has been enjoying a comeback. His version of Tracy Letts’s play Bug won strong reviews. Killer Joe, also based on that writer’s work, starring Matthew McConaughey as a corrupt cop in a hellish version of Texas, has also been going down a storm. It’s an impressively grim film set in a relentlessly savage environment.
“You never can tell what will work,” he says. “I just do things that interest me and I hope they interest others. There are communities like this everywhere: cops who moonlight as killers; father sleeping with their daughters. It’s to do with what Emmanuelle Kant said about the crooked timber of humanity out of which nothing straight can be made.”
It’s nice to receive acclaim again. And he appears happy in his private life. After marriages to the actors Jeanne Moreau and Lesley Anne-Down and the journalist Kelly Lange, he finally settled down with Sherry Lansing, former president of 20th Century Fox, some 20 years ago. “She offers me plenty of advice, not always solicited,” he laughs.
Life seems very comfortable. Still, he must mourn the films that got away. He must feel he made a few gems that were unfairly overlooked.
“No, no, no! For God’s sake, Donald, if you get to be a movie director and express yourself in a mass medium, you’re damned lucky. I look upon myself as a damn lucky man.”
Killer Joe opens today.