Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Tangerine Dream's Betrayal - A Window into Friedkin's Sorcerer

It's only been over the last ten years or so that I've begun to feel a growing obsession with the cinematic works of William Friedkin. The man whose name I once knew solely in conjunction with what I once considered the scariest movie ever made, The Exorcist, began to take on new connotations back somewhere in the murky recesses of the end of our previous decade.  It was at that time I watched The French Connection for the first time since I was an un-interested child, a third-person voyeur's viewing via the method of early film ingestion many 80s children will relate to. During the dawn of the VHS and video store boom, Saturday nights were commonly VCR Nights; you'd trek to the Video Store with your parents early in the day, pick out something to watch during the afternoon or early evening, then after dinner, it was parents' movie time. Sometimes they rented stuff we could all watch, sometimes it was stuff you weren't interested in but you stayed in the front room and played with your toys while they watched, because the nuclear family was still mostly alive and well in the Suburban United States and the units of the family gravitated toward one another, teenage social rebellion having not yet set in. Then sometimes, there were movies like The Falcon and Snowman, or The Deer Hunter, where the folks waited until you were in bed to watch. It is in this second variation that I believe I originally was exposed to and absorbed elements of The French Connection, but what made it to adulthood was little more than the film's grimy tone.

When I did sit down in my thirties and watch Popeye Doyle and the entire spectacle of Friedkin's crime epic, I was floored. I'd just finished reading a book that Mr. Brown had lent me, Stephen Farber's Outrageous Conduct. Primarily a depiction of the events leading up to and the aftermath from the deaths of veteran actor Vic Morrow and two young children during the filming of John Landis' Twilight Zone: The Movie, Farber offered examples of other 'outrageous conduct' by 70s/80s era directors. The French Connection was included; Friedkin's filming of a car chase during actual New York City traffic resonated with me as outrageous, but just the right kind of outrageous. This is the commitment that made Cinema what it was in its heyday. It is also what led to corporate control and the eventual commoditization of Cinema, so that today, good or bad, all we really have with big budgets are franchise movies. The French Connection played out before me, eliciting moments of half-remembered ah-has, but ultimately as a brand new experience, making me realize the rest of Friedkin's work was something well worth engaging in.

Sorcerer was another movie that I believe Farber's book mentioned. Long elusive to digital transfer, I hunted for screenings of this one for a few years, until finally a BR was announced. I tried to order that disc several times; on every episode it eluded me, until early in 2019, when Friedkin's jungle-epic popped back up on Amazon. I ordered it, however, Amazon had trouble fulfilling that order. I received countless emails over the course of several weeks, all assurances the disc would ship soon. Until finally, the final email came and announced a refund had been issued. It seems I was to wait just a little while longer before I could see Sorcerer*.

Finally, last week, a happened to look at my Amazon wish list and noticed Sorcerer on Blu Ray had returned. I snapped that fucker up in a heartbeat and two days later, my disc arrived.

This past Saturday, I sat down to finally watch this much-anticipated film. However, my initial viewing was doomed from the start. It was late, and Sorcerer has, what my good friend and fellow Horror Vision co-host Ray calls '70s pacing.' Now, to be clear, I do not mind '70s pacing.' In many cases, I love it. However, I have to be ready for it. Last Saturday, I was not. After sleeping through most of this attempt, I called it quits around 2:30 AM and left the comfy confines of our new couch for the more appropriate quarters of our bed.

The following day was a frustrating one. This always happens when I fail to meet an anticipated film on its own terms. When a movie is as theoretically this amazing and I don't bond with it, my initial interpretation of that schism is that the problem originates with me, not the film. How many amazing pieces of art, whether song, prose, film, do we encounter in our lives and dismiss, only to reconnect with it years later and realize we were simply not tuned to that piece's specific wavelength upon first encounter? It so happens that, after moping about Sunday, Monday returned from work with the first strains of viral illness washing over me and dug in for another attempt.

This time, Sorcerer worked.

I still had a hard time with the first hour or so of the film, and I'm now leaning toward that being the Film's fault and not mine, but after making it all the way through, I intend to go back and see if completing the journey helps bolster what otherwise feels like pacing issues. Issues caused by a Director's insistence on adhering to a "European" tone that really doesn't do anything but, to reference an infamous scene later in the film, spin its tires in the mud. However, I'm still not sure I won't now see something in the arduous first act that I didn't see before. Regardless, Sorcerer is an achievement of a film, and one I will continue to engage with, analyze, and subject others to for the rest of my life. Because the imagery, the acting, and the cinema verite reality of that acting is of a caliber that's nearly unbelievable, and because, like another movie I wrote about here recently, from the perspective of 2020's Hollywood, it is almost unbelievable anyone allowed a director to be so indulgent as to make this movie. In keeping with this, you'll notice this title card during the film's opening:

That's because a second studio pitched in to help carry the cost of completing the film after money began to wash away in the storm Friedkin had created. You can read about this in length on the Wikipedia Entry for Sorcerer, however there's a wealth of other information out there, most of it coalescing in the Italian Documentary Friedkin Uncut, which has yet to have a release in the states. My own information from the documentary came second hand; gleaned from talking with someone who was lucky enough to see the film on an airplane in Europe.

Also, and there's no way to discuss this film and not mention this, the rope bridge scene is surely one of the greatest realizations of a Director's vision ever put to film. It's outstanding in its tension, almost a bullet hole that kills the rest of the film, if it wasn't for the narratives degeneration into complete, alien madness. For an in-depth discussion of where this film goes visually, HERE is a great article I found while putting this post together.

Another little time capsule that helps illustrate the cultural malaise toward this film upon its release, here's a clip I found online via the Eyes on Cinema youtube channel, which has a wealth of information on it:

Both men are mis-informed about the film's 'Special FX,' and I wonder if that's because during the initial release of Sorcerer, Friedkin had to downplay the dangerous conditions he'd created in order to make the film, possibly because the studio(s) already had displayed the intention to let it die a quick and costly death? Would revealing the methods of madness employed in the Rope Bridge Sequence, the real explosions captured during the Jerusalem Vignette, or the toll the film had taken on its cast helped bring people in to see Sorcerer? We'll never know.

Finally, just to bring everything around full circle, the track that leads off this post is from Tangerine Dreams phenomenal OST to the film, which Waxwork Records just released in their customary fantastic high-end format. You can peruse or purchase that record HERE.


* During this time, several pop up screenings occurred at the likes of the more passionate, independent movie houses in LaLa Land. I could attend none of them.

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