Interview: Picking Up on William Friedkin's Cruising

The director on his newly re-mastered 1980 film.

William Friedkin - John Shearer/WireImage.com William Friedkin will forever be remembered as one of the legendary New Hollywood directors of the 1970s. He and the "film brats" worked feverishly during a decade-long confluence of bewildered (but rich) studio executives who entrusted young (but learned) filmmakers to win back disaffected (but daring) audiences by filming innovative and accessible stories. Friedkin and his band of precocious auteurs loved movies more than anything and only when their egos and wallets grew larger than their desire to continue the cinematic innovation of the European New Waves did it all come crashing down.

Friedkin's best known and most-celebrated work is The French Connection (for which he won a Best Director Oscar at the age of 26), which he followed with the ever-controversial The Exorcist. Outside of dedicated cinephiles, most would be hard-pressed to name his other films. However, Friedkin continues to work even today (see this year's psycho-thriller Bug), creating movies that, while not as groundbreaking as his earlier work, share a strong thematic consistency and show the artist to be as keen and original as he ever was, if in smaller ways.

RT met with the notorious director -- who's been featured with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, and Martin Scorsese in Peter Biskind's unforgiving tome on 1970s cinema, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls -- to discuss his 1980 film Cruising, which will get the deluxe DVD treatment from Warner Home Video on September 18. Cruising stars Al Pacino as Steve Burns, an undercover cop who must infiltrate the gay New York City underworld to attract a serial killer whose modus operandi is to pick up young men in S&M bars. Armed only with the information that the murderer targets men of his type (but not certain if the victims are even related, or whether there are multiple killers), Pacino must shed his inhibitions and adopt a homosexual persona until he himself gets "cruised." When the film opened, liberal culture in America was ending just as the gay rights movement got underway. Cruising portrays a paranoid era when personal identity had suddenly become a dangerous secret.

You've always been an unflinching director, both with the subject matter you choose and how you treat those subjects onscreen -- there's a sense of immediacy and rawness. Cruising follows your other work in that sense. Is that what attracted you to the story? How S&M was a subterranean culture that you could explore in a way both shocking and revealing?

William Friedkin: I think that's probably a good way to put it. I never thought of it as anything shocking at the time. I thought it was fascinating. There are many outside events that led to making Cruising but what drew me toward it more than anything was that it was based on an actual series of murders that took place in Manhattan around that time, and they were unsolved. I was making a film about unsolved murders. That was really the unusual and unique thing about it.

Because at that time, and even more so today, a movie about a murder starts and it's two hours long, at the end of two hours the murder is solved and everything gets put back neatly into its drawer. This convention is nowhere worse than on television. At nine o'clock somebody gets murdered and at 10 o'clock the murder is completely solved and put away. I realized because of a lot of contact that I had with police officers all over the country and many parts of the world that's not how it works. There are many more unsolved murders than solved. There is this evil out in the world that's vying with good on a constant basis. The thing that attracts me to almost every film I've made is the thin line between good and evil. In all the characters there are no real, single villains or heroes. There's a part of good and [a part of] evil in all the characters, which is what I really believe. So this was a way of making a film about unsolved murders. And at the time, that had not been done. I don't know if it's been done since. But it was considered, if not confusing to audiences, then ambiguous. And it may to some extent still be, because audiences are conditioned to know who the killer is. When a normal movie's over, you walk out saying, "I knew it was that guy all the time!" But Cruising isn't "that guy." And that's what happened in the series of murders that took place, which prompted me to do the film. They weren't solved.

In that sense, the story has connection to San Francisco through a comparison to the Zodiac murders; the sense of everyman killers -- your neighbor could be a murderer -- that sense of paranoia.

WF: Those were unsolved. And the BTK [bind, torture, kill] murders in Kansas City [between 1974 and 1991]. They got the guy 30-some years later.

Is that why you always resist resolution at the end of your movies?

WF: There is no resolution. I don't resist it. Cruising is a film about a series of murders that took place to which there were no clear answers. They pretty much knew who did one or a couple of the murders, but not all of them. Nor is it suggested that the murder was gay. One or two of the murderers may have been gay. They may also have been seeking vengeance against gay people. There was a lot of that going on at the time. Even in recent years where young people are victimized because of their religion or sexual preference or something else. It's pretty frightening that's still occurring.

Comments

Void Moon

Void Moon

Friedkin hasn't made a good movie in 30 years.

Talk about falling off.

Sep 14 - 06:53 PM

Some guy you dont know

Bruce Campbell

You've never made a good film.

Sep 14 - 07:55 PM

Jen Yamato

Jen Yamato

Geez, way to be the most negative human being on the planet. Even with a spotty filmography, the man made The French f***ing Connection and The Exorcist.

Sep 14 - 07:08 PM

lostharvestmovie

gerald clough

maybe Friedkin hasn't made a great movie in 30 years but let's see: "to live and die in la" is pretty cool and that was made in '83 or '84; i remember thinking "jade" was pretty good and "the hunted" was a really neat movie and "the hunted" is fairly recent.... the 1980s were not really a Freidkin type of decade anyways... I remember sitting in the theaters in the 1980s and just wishing for the kinds of '70s films that Friedkin was making.... Friedkin is a pretty cool filmmaker.

www.lostharvest.com

Sep 14 - 07:41 PM

Some guy you dont know

Bruce Campbell

You've never made a good film.

Sep 14 - 07:55 PM

Void Moon

Void Moon

Listen....do you hear that???

Sounds like a bunch of babies crying.....waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa............

Sep 14 - 09:17 PM

monkeyonaspring

Sam Dunning

Using a baby crying simile for an insult is more commonly employed by children. If you are going to make a come-back make it intelligent, please...

Sep 15 - 09:07 AM

Some guy you dont know

Bruce Campbell

Enough from you, son.

Sep 15 - 10:24 AM

monkeyonaspring

Sam Dunning

Using a baby crying simile for an insult is more commonly employed by children. If you are going to make a come-back make it intelligent, please...

Sep 15 - 09:07 AM

Some guy you dont know

Bruce Campbell

Enough from you, son.

Sep 15 - 10:24 AM

Loserman

Fred Doberson

To proclaim Friedkin hasn't done a good movie in 30 years is a proclamation of your own unawareness. While Friedkin's filmography isn't miles long, what it does encompass is a variety of provocatives. Sure, his modern stuff may not match up to his earlier promise, but there are inklings of it throughout. I thought Bug was very effective, probably his most consistent film since To Live And Die In L.A., an unsung '80s film (one of the few gritty ones from the Reagan years). I think someone needs his diaper changed.

Sep 15 - 11:04 AM

Void Moon

Void Moon

O....I'm sorry....he hasn't made a good film in 23 years.

My bad.

lol

30 years to 23 years....whatever....the guy is irrelevant.

That's like praising Steven Spielberg if he had only done DUEL and JAWS (late 70's) and then didn't do anything since then.

The guy's not exactly kicking over in his grave....so why don't he step up to the plate and get on some good scripts again?

You tell me that.

All the interviews I've seen him in he comes off as a pompous, arrogant know-it-all.

This, after he hasn't been relevant in 30 years.

Bitter, maybe?

Sep 15 - 11:35 AM

Loserman

Fred Doberson

Who's bitter exactly? For whatever reason, you came out of the gates swinging at Friedkin. Did you discover authenticity issues with the leather bar scenes in "Cruising" or something?

Aside from box office receipts, has Spielberg really done anything as good as Duel or Jaws?

And, in all seriousness, do you think any of the serious dramas of the 1970s would be greenlit in today's commercial film market? Friedkin and many other directors from the bygone days could be sitting on some good scripts and just can't receive the time of day because of the newbies who control the purse strings in Hollywood. When lauded filmmakers such as Herzog, Lynch, Scorsese, Allen, etc., struggle today to get financial backing for their films, something ain't right. Does that make them irrelevant too?

Your associating Friedkin to being pompous, arrogant and a know-it-all says more about you than him. Why is sharing knowledge a detriment? Yep, thinking and learning are so 20th Century. At least his knowledge base is deeper and more broad than most directors', which is typically based upon bad television shows from the last 10 years. So, yes, you've made it clear you don't like the guy. Some of us wish Friedkin could be given more opportunities to express himself through cinema. Why the scorched earth vitriol?

Sep 15 - 01:02 PM

dracus

Cap Nord

You said: "Aside from box office receipts, has Spielberg really done anything as good as Duel or Jaws?"

Overall I agree with your comment on Friedkin, but you really should have left that line about Spielberg out since it belittles everything else you said.

Sep 16 - 05:10 AM

Void Moon

Void Moon

O....I'm sorry....he hasn't made a good film in 23 years.

My bad.

lol

30 years to 23 years....whatever....the guy is irrelevant.

That's like praising Steven Spielberg if he had only done DUEL and JAWS (late 70's) and then didn't do anything since then.

The guy's not exactly kicking over in his grave....so why don't he step up to the plate and get on some good scripts again?

You tell me that.

All the interviews I've seen him in he comes off as a pompous, arrogant know-it-all.

This, after he hasn't been relevant in 30 years.

Bitter, maybe?

Sep 15 - 11:35 AM

Loserman

Fred Doberson

Who's bitter exactly? For whatever reason, you came out of the gates swinging at Friedkin. Did you discover authenticity issues with the leather bar scenes in "Cruising" or something?

Aside from box office receipts, has Spielberg really done anything as good as Duel or Jaws?

And, in all seriousness, do you think any of the serious dramas of the 1970s would be greenlit in today's commercial film market? Friedkin and many other directors from the bygone days could be sitting on some good scripts and just can't receive the time of day because of the newbies who control the purse strings in Hollywood. When lauded filmmakers such as Herzog, Lynch, Scorsese, Allen, etc., struggle today to get financial backing for their films, something ain't right. Does that make them irrelevant too?

Your associating Friedkin to being pompous, arrogant and a know-it-all says more about you than him. Why is sharing knowledge a detriment? Yep, thinking and learning are so 20th Century. At least his knowledge base is deeper and more broad than most directors', which is typically based upon bad television shows from the last 10 years. So, yes, you've made it clear you don't like the guy. Some of us wish Friedkin could be given more opportunities to express himself through cinema. Why the scorched earth vitriol?

Sep 15 - 01:02 PM

dracus

Cap Nord

You said: "Aside from box office receipts, has Spielberg really done anything as good as Duel or Jaws?"

Overall I agree with your comment on Friedkin, but you really should have left that line about Spielberg out since it belittles everything else you said.

Sep 16 - 05:10 AM

Loserman

Fred Doberson

Who's bitter exactly? For whatever reason, you came out of the gates swinging at Friedkin. Did you discover authenticity issues with the leather bar scenes in "Cruising" or something?

Aside from box office receipts, has Spielberg really done anything as good as Duel or Jaws?

And, in all seriousness, do you think any of the serious dramas of the 1970s would be greenlit in today's commercial film market? Friedkin and many other directors from the bygone days could be sitting on some good scripts and just can't receive the time of day because of the newbies who control the purse strings in Hollywood. When lauded filmmakers such as Herzog, Lynch, Scorsese, Allen, etc., struggle today to get financial backing for their films, something ain't right. Does that make them irrelevant too?

Your associating Friedkin to being pompous, arrogant and a know-it-all says more about you than him. Why is sharing knowledge a detriment? Yep, thinking and learning are so 20th Century. At least his knowledge base is deeper and more broad than most directors', which is typically based upon bad television shows from the last 10 years. So, yes, you've made it clear you don't like the guy. Some of us wish Friedkin could be given more opportunities to express himself through cinema. Why the scorched earth vitriol?

Sep 15 - 01:02 PM

dracus

Cap Nord

You said: "Aside from box office receipts, has Spielberg really done anything as good as Duel or Jaws?"

Overall I agree with your comment on Friedkin, but you really should have left that line about Spielberg out since it belittles everything else you said.

Sep 16 - 05:10 AM

Void Moon

Void Moon

Hmmm.....Spielberg has done little movies like Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, etc.

Have you heard of them? : )

And how does Scorses struggle to get financial backing? Ever see a movie called The Gangs of New York (and its monumental sets of old New York), as well as The Aviator?

Herzog is underrated and doesn't get the respect he deserves, but that doesn't stop him from making quality projects, no matter the financial backing, year after year.

And I never said I didn't like the guy.

It's called stating facts.

Look up the word: Fact(s)

The equation = you make a decent movie, you'll almost 99% of the time get financial backing of a sort.

I'm just amazed at the utter lack of knowledgable posters on here who actually know film history (and it shows in the posts above, concerning Scorsese, etc.).

Consider yourself served, sir.

Sep 15 - 02:32 PM

Some guy you dont know

Bruce Campbell

There are billions of people on this planet.

Only a few will ever make a great film.
Even fewer will ever make a horror masterpiece like 'The Exorcist'.
Even fewer will ever make an additional three great films.

The great 12 Angry Men remake, directed by sir William Friedkin was made only 10 years ago. Not 30.

The man has made four great films. Most people struggle to make one. The man has earned atleast some respect.

Sep 15 - 03:16 PM

Void Moon

Void Moon

Very true, Bruce.

He does deserve respect.

I'll get him credit where credit is do.


Read my first post--all I wrote was: "Friedkin hasn't made a good movie in 30 years. Talk about falling off."

And that was a statement of fact.

It can't be denied.


Sep 15 - 03:55 PM

Void Moon

Void Moon

Very true, Bruce.

He does deserve respect.

I'll get him credit where credit is do.


Read my first post--all I wrote was: "Friedkin hasn't made a good movie in 30 years. Talk about falling off."

And that was a statement of fact.

It can't be denied.


Sep 15 - 03:55 PM

Some guy you dont know

Bruce Campbell

12 Angry Men.

All I'm saying.

Sep 15 - 04:14 PM

Void Moon

Void Moon

12 Angry Men was a freaking television movie remake of Sidney Lumet's classic 12 ANGRY MEN (Henry Fonda).

It wasn't even an original piece. It was Lumet's classic filmed for 1997 TV.

Get your facts straight.

My god.

Sep 15 - 04:58 PM

Some guy you dont know

Bruce Campbell

It was great remake though.

So... What's your point? Are you saying no (TV) remake can be good?

Sep 15 - 05:17 PM

Void Moon

Void Moon

It's basically exactly like the remake of Hitchcock's classic, Psycho, which came out in 1998 starring Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates.

It used the exact same script (and even imitated the original in camera-flow and shot sequences).

It wasn't original, and it's far from creative.

Friedkin took the script from Lumet's classic and made it into a direct-to-television remake.

Thing is, the Psycho remake (1998) sucked, but the tv movie 12 Angry Men (1997) remake was watchable.

My beef with not crediting Friedkin for it is:

#1-It wasn't original
#2-Same script
#3-Tv movie

And #3 sets it in motion.

It's a TV movie.

Should I care that Quentin Tarantino wrote AND directed a two-hour long episode of CSI?

Yes. It was decent.

But it was still just TV (though more original than a remake) and SHOULD NOT be equated with ANY of his film work (Pulp Fiction, etc.).

Though TV and film have many ties and relations (think about all the mini-movie episodes of shows like THE SOPRANOS, etc.), they are still two different mediums.

Copy? : )

Sep 15 - 05:36 PM

Some guy you dont know

Bruce Campbell

Wow... You are picky.

Or were you just looking for a loophole?

Sep 15 - 05:42 PM

Void Moon

Void Moon

Haha...nah, I'm not picky, I just actually know what I'm talking about, compared to others around here.......

Any experienced filmmaker will tell you the same thing. Go ask.

Btw, I think all that baby crying finally died down....



Sep 15 - 05:45 PM

Void Moon

Void Moon

Haha...nah, I'm not picky, I just actually know what I'm talking about, compared to others around here.......

Any experienced filmmaker will tell you the same thing. Go ask.

Btw, I think all that baby crying finally died down....



Sep 15 - 05:45 PM

Some guy you dont know

Bruce Campbell

I am an experienced filmmaker though.

I did direct classics like 'Man with the Screaming Brain' and 'Fanalysis' afterall.

Sep 15 - 05:55 PM

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