A conversation with William Friedkin
Published: August 29, 2012
MT: Yes, but since restoring it he's cut, like, three different versions.
Friedkin: You know there's an apocryphal story about the post-impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard. And Bonnard is alleged to have gone into the Louvre where his painting hung. And he went to the place where one of his paintings was hanging with a palette and some paints and a brush and he started painting over his painting. And the guards immediately grabbed him and took him to the security office of the Louvre and they said, "What the hell are you doing?" And he answered, "But I am Bonnard, this is my painting. I feel that I am improving it." And they said, "Monsieur Bonnard, it's hanging in the Louvre, it's good enough." I understand that impulse. I'd venture to say that you'd like to go back and rewrite some of your columns.
MT: Oh, absolutely. I'm paraphrasing here, but Alexander Payne said in an interview that most directors only have about 10 best years in them, that after that whatever they produce is probably going to be hit or miss. You've only had 16 films. Do you see any truth in that statement?
Friedkin: Well, Billy Wilder went on for at least 30 years. As did John Ford. You can't generalize. How many years was their work valid? Jesus, I don't know ... I suppose that if you're a painter or filmmaker or writer there's a given amount of time when you're in tune with the zeitgeist. And then there comes a time when you're not, when the zeitgeist changes.
MT: At the end of Killer Joe, Gina Gershon's character has a rather humiliating encounter with a chicken drumstick. When I screened the movie at the Toronto Film Festival a woman seated near me snarled that the film was misogynist. I was tempted to whisper to her that misanthropic might be more accurate. Is either response valid?
Friedkin: Well, I have not heard that complaint. Maybe one or two times out of the literally thousands of Twitter and Facebook comments and articles. Is it a valid comment? I guess so. [The scene] certainly wasn't intended to be. Of course, the film hasn't opened widely yet so I can't determine if that's going to come up again. It may.
MT: Do you think the graphic nature of the scene might inspire such a reaction?
Friedkin: I don't make a film expecting people to have a negative response to it. But I do make films that are challenging to me as subject matter. And I imagine that'll push a lot of audience buttons as well. The ratings board certainly thought the film was too violent. I actually agree with them. [The film is rated NC-17] It is a very violent film. I can't be responsible for people's reactions.
Killer Joe opens locally Friday.
Jeff Meyers watches more than 100 films a year for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.
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