William Friedkin: ‘You don’t know a damn thing, and neither do I’
The Exorcist director returns to his demonic roots with a new documentary, but he’s not interested in discussing your skepticism
A video clip featuring William Friedkin recently experienced a small level of virality among online film circles, in which the film-maker dresses down Nicolas Winding Refn after the younger director declares his own film Only God Forgives to be a masterpiece. Friedkin repeatedly calls for a medic, compares Refn’s film unfavorably to Citizen Kane, and most memorably, uses a vivid metaphor that puts the “anal” in “analogy”.
Friedkin, speaking on a drizzly afternoon in his suite at New York’s Carlyle Hotel, wants to make it clear that he bears no ill will to Refn. “I like him! He’s a nice guy. I like him very much.” But the larger truth underlying their charged exchange persists: William Friedkin simply does not give a damn.
He’s aged 82 now, and seven years out from the release of his last film. (That was 2011’s chicken-fried neo-noir Killer Joe, a classically Friedkinian work in its marriage of extreme, lurid material with tightly controlled aesthetic rigor.) He’s on the press circuit once again because he’s finally got a new film to promote, an entirely self-funded documentary titled The Devil and Father Amorth. The project dips back into Friedkin’s past as the man behind The Exorcist, chronicling the real-life purging of a demon by a Vatican higher-up. Skeptics will be tempted to place the words “real-life” in scare quotes, and the film doesn’t mount a particularly convincing case as to why they shouldn’t have that caveat. It’s here that Friedkin’s blithe disregard for what the general public thinks emerges as the source of all his power; believe him or don’t believe him, it’s all the same as far as he’s concerned.