Interview: Picking Up on William Friedkin's Cruising
The director on his newly re-mastered 1980 film.
WF: It was that, indeed. And I remember that. It was around then, but now it's gone. To find someone in the closet, or to find a communist, today you have to go to a museum. Cruising was released during the early stages of gay activism, and progress toward understanding, or at least accommodation. So it was viewed by a different audience. Now, to have Warner Brothers create a DVD that looks and sounds better than the original ever did, it's a filmmaker's dream. Someday some of the films that are very popular today will disappear completely off the radar and then come back perhaps when a new technology is invented, and a new generation will be able to see and appreciate them. I applaud this technology. It has saved the legacy of international cinema.
In Peter Biskind's book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls he quotes you as saying, "The thing that drove me and still keeps me going is Citizen Kane. I hope to one day make a film to rank with that. I haven't yet." So, do you have a Citizen Kane in pre-production?
WF: No. No, that's unattainable. I haven't read Peter Biskind's book, I know about it. It's made up largely of facts, lies and rumors, as near as I can tell. What he chose to do more than interview the subjects themselves was to talk with ex-girlfriends, ex-wives, whatever. In any case, I probably said that, and I meant that. Citizen Kane is the film that inspires me. It's like a composer saying, "I hope to one day write a symphony that rival's Beethoven's Fifth." It's impossible. It's just not possible to do that anymore. It becomes a watermark. It's because of those kinds of symphonies that symphonies continue to be written. It's because of films like Citizen Kane, or the paintings of Rembrandt or Vermeer, that people are continually inspired to create. There are only two responses if you're a filmmaker and you see Citizen Kane: One is, 'that's how I'm going to measure my work,' the other is, 'I quit.' That's it. Imagine looking at a Rembrandt portrait and you want to be a portrait painter. What're you gonna do?
Take up photography.
WF: Take up photography, or give up, or commit suicide. And that's true of all the iconic works of art: They're to be aspired to. Unlike baseball's home run record, they will never be exceeded. There will be others that may join them in the pantheon of great works, perhaps, but they will never be exceeded.
Hopefully through DVDs Citizen Kane will not be forgotten and will continue to influence directors.
WF: Hopefully, yes. Now, Citizen Kane is very much of its time. It influenced everything that came after. It was like a quarry for filmmakers. Like Joyce's Ulysses or Proust's In Search of Lost Time are quarries for writers. It's all there. In Citizen Kane the very finest screenplay, acting, lighting, editing, cinematography, music, it's all at its highest level in that one film. It's all together. Maybe some day that'll come together in an American presidency. We'll have another president like Lincoln or Roosevelt.
Do you think that's possible with modern media culture?
WF: You live and hope.
The deluxe collector's edition DVD of Cruising is out next Tuesday, September 18.