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Review: ‘Friedkin Uncut’ shows how ‘The Exorcist’ director is compelled by the power of film

William Friedkin, ‘Friedkin Uncut’
Director William Friedkin is the subject of the documentary “Friedkin Uncut.”
(Ambi Distribution )

If you’ve read William Friedkin’s 500-page autobiography, 2013’s “The Friedkin Connection,” or the passages concerning him in Peter Biskind’s New Hollywood history “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls,” you know the veteran filmmaker can tell a story or two.

Many of those tales, mostly focusing on triumphs like “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist,” are repeated in the new documentary, “Friedkin Uncut,” a reverential look at the 83-year-old director’s career that’s bolstered by interviews with the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola and Wes Anderson.

The material is mostly familiar, and Friedkin’s failures are spun in his favor. There’s no mention of his life outside of his work until the closing credits, when he praises his long union with his fourth wife, Sherry Lansing, the former head of Paramount Pictures.

But Friedkin is an engaging raconteur, even (or especially) when he’s rambling through half-formed thoughts, like his labored comparison of Hitler and Jesus. (“I don’t admire Hitler, but ...”) The sections covering “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist” serve as potent reminders of the films’ continued vitality. Friedkin cites Buster Keaton’s “The General” as inspiration for “The French Connection’s” famous car chase scene, which he admits was too dangerous.

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“I wouldn’t do it today,” he says unconvincingly.

Director Francesco Zippel doesn’t challenge Friedkin, letting him spin his life’s work as he pleases. The filmmaker comes across surprisingly self-deprecating, given the stories we’ve heard about both his ego and temper. To make a movie, Friedkin says, takes ambition, luck and the grace of God. “To me, the most important is the grace of God.” Remember that the next time you watch “The Exorcist.”

'Friedkin Uncut'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: Starts Aug. 30, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills


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