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William Friedkin’s spirit lives on in To Live and Die in L.A.

William Friedkin’s spirit lives on in To Live and Die in L.A.

One of the things I have been excited for this year is the 50th anniversary of William Friedkin’s (1973) The Exorcist and one of the things I have been disappointed about this year is the trailer to Blumhouse and David Gordon Green’s (2023) The Exorcist: Believer. That was the first trailer and I just saw the second trailer two days ago and I have to say I’m still not impressed. Not long after being excited about the anniversary of The Exorcist and I guess being able to see the first trailer to this “legacy sequel” the worst news hit. Film Director William Friedkin passed away at 87.

The Exorcist, I remember my sister renting it and it was me, her and my mom. I remember the cover of the movie or the disc gave me chills. I was freighted by it. I spent the whole 132 minutes covering my eyes. But I would have to say that was my first Friedkin film. I have always been a fan of crime thrillers, especially those set in L.A.. I can’t explain it. I didn’t grow up in L.A., but most of the films I saw as kid were set in L.A. That could be why. I don’t know I have to really think about that to give you a good answer. So around the time I was getting more passionate about films I started asking about other great crime thrillers set in L.A. and this one came up a lot or I could’ve been looking for a movie with a great car chase scene. Maybe both. I picked this up on DVD when I saw it at Best Buy and I have to say it was an experience. Like most William Friedkin films are. I think it was The French Connection that I found because I was seeking movies with good car chase scenes and (1985) To Live and Die in L.A. was more for the L.A. thing.

I was already on the lookout for a theater to release The Exorcist in theaters for its 50th anniversary. I had finally found one and have begged my co workers who haven’t seen It to go watch it with me. They said yes but I have a good feeling they’re going to fall back on that promise. Actually it must have been two or three days after that the news made headlines. It was just something so peculiar to me because here I was excited about this directors remarkable work and trying to get people pumped to go see The Exorcist and then suddenly he’s gone.

But is he really? I think Mr. William Friedkin still lives with the films he made. He isn’t that far to me because it sure didn’t seem like it today as I write this. The Art house theater I interned at announced that they would have Friedkin Weekend for September. Starting with To Live and Die in LA, to (1971) The French Connection to (1977) Sorcerer which I have not seen or ever heard about until now. So I can’t wait to see it for the first time. I heard great things. All those films will lead up to The Exorcist in October. Once I saw this up on their Facebook and Instagram page I said “I’m there”

As I entered the theater I said hi to some of my old colleagues who are always so welcoming. The auditorium was clean and ready. When I picked my seat there still wasn’t much people but as it got closer to the start time it started to get packed and it brought nothing but joy to see this director still getting the respect he deserves.

When Secret Service Richard Chance’s soon to be retired partner Jimmy Hart is killed by Rick Masters, a counterfeiter he was investigating. He decides to go on pursuit with his new partner John Vukovich to bring Masters down, even if he has to bend the rules.

One of the very first things that stands out in this film is the music by Wang Chung and Robby Müller cinematography. I love when a film utilizes all the aspects of filmmaking. What I mean is that sometimes one element is high above the other. The only thing great about it is one film might be the score or the cinematography of another film might just be generic. Here it hits all the check marks. Friedkin is known as a “Master of Suspense” Director and To Live and Die In L.A. isn’t stating anything otherwise. You can see this in the opening scene in the hall of the hotel. The music has been playing since the start of the film and as soon as Richard Chance has a suspicion on someone it stops and you can suddenly feel the tension. Another scene at the start of the film is when Masters is about to start his work on making counterfeit money when paint splatters and the music hits telling the audience they’re in for a ride. Friedkin and Müller capture a gritty world of L.A.. Sorry to brag about “film school”, but there is something we learn about lines and how straight lines bring in a composition bring a calm tone but lines that just Criss cross each other bring tension, danger, confusion. Those are the kind of shots you see a lot, wherever the characters are. The homes, the streets outside with the transmission tower or even the industrial location during the car chases. Most of film seems to make L.A. hot, it feels like summer and it feels tiring and it feels like everything is happening in the evening or during rush hours. I mean most times the characters are out of breathe and they’re sweating. I could feel it myself. Even though this takes place in L.A., it still feels like it’s building its own fictional world for us to escape in.

Friedkin has two well executed car chase scenes in his filmography. One being The French Connection and this one. I started hearing people in the audience debating what films had the best car chase sequence. You have to have talent to come up with a stunning scene like that. The moment Chance and John go on the chase through the streets and Highways of L.A. the music cuts off and all’s you can hear is the sound of the bystanders, the engine of the car, tire screeching, collisions. It brings this Edginess. It becomes freighting when it isn’t just the people in the first car, but people all through the city start to appear out of nowhere as if the message went out to get rid of these two secret service agents. Chance is confused about this, John is feeling guilty in the back of the car as this all happens. It’s one of those scenes to keep everyone at the edge of their seats.

The film has an excellent cast and as I viewed this film again after years of having seen it, I was able to pick up on the writing. The story is good, the characters are great, but there was lines that were almost cringe, but you make an exception knowing what time it was made in. I’m sure many of the films from the 80’s and 90’s that I enjoyed and still probably consider good have it. Willem Peterson and John Pankow weren’t any actors I knew when I first saw this. But there’s something I also enjoy about the main characters being unknown to me because I get to decide whether I think they’re doing a great job and it helps me escape into the story more than seeing some famous celebrities face that I already know. Richard Chance is quite a character. He’s careless, hot headed or a “Hot Dog” like his partner Jimmy Hart calls him. Chance got many laughs in the theater because of some of the writing, but I believe it was also his flamboyant body language. I haven’t read Gerald Petievich novel which the film is based off on. I kept asking myself whether that was the description of the character in the novel, a Friedkin suggestion or if it was just something Petersen brought. Whatever it was it works. It helps the character stand out. Reminds me of the little things Benicio Del Toro does to bring his characters to life. John Pankow does his work to, even though I know the character he’s playing. The do good, one with a conscious character. I only wish there was more of him. His story doesn’t get more interesting until his confrontation with Masters. It shows that this world is shady, full of corruption. It was incredible to see Willem Dafoe and John Turturro in their early days. When Willem Dafoe first popped up on screen and some people cheered and I asked do they really know his work or is it just spider man’s Green Goblin. Willem Dafoe gives a good performance in here, he’s intimidating but yet has has this charm and actually feels like he knows these streets and every time he is with an associate of his, there’s like this authentic chemistry. I feel like there’s some history between him and the other person. When I sat myself down I overheard some people asking about the film to their friends, so it was obvious to me it was some peoples first time seeing the film. Which makes me happy because I’m glad they’re giving it a chance and I’m jealous that they got that first time experience. But one thing that disturbed me was when John Turturro’s presences came on screen. Everyone started laughing. I guess people probably just know his Happy Madison films, Transformers etc. I sound like a Schmuck I know. Don’t get me wrong, I think John Turturro is a great comedic actor but he’s just as great in serious roles. People have to see (1989) Do the Right Thing, (1990) State of Grace, (1990) Miller’s Crossing, (200) O Brother, Where Art Thou?, (2009) The Taking of Pelham 123. Even in the HBO’s crime drama miniseries (2016) The Night Of. One thing that sold me on Matt Reeves’s (2022) The Batman was that John Turturro was going to be playing Batman’s enemy mob boss Carmine Falcone. People laughed, but I didn’t. It actually disappointed me that he wasn’t in there for much of the film and that they took him out for a possible return in the sequels. Maybe they laughed because of his role of Jesus in (1998) The Big Lebowski. Which I can live with. Turturro is just as good as Dafoe and to see a scene of these gifted actors across from each other in the visitation room is gratifying.

By the time the film was over I could see the heads of the audience in front of me. All the seats were filled and I thought isn’t that remarkable. This Director who was from the early 70’s and whose last film was more than decade ago is still able to leave an impact. How incredible. I felt like this energy of his spirit still living on in his work. For us that are grateful for what he left behind. To give us a reason to get up? get ready because the title of his film is on the calendar, to find the perfect seat, to be left in suspense, to laugh, to finally hear the audience applaud at the end. That’s a job well done Mr. Friedkin. I will be seeing Sorcerer soon and I’m definitely gonna be there for The Exorcist as it’s what I’ve been excited for this year. I also can’t wait to see what happens with the last film The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial that he shot and was able to finish before his passing.

Fans of edgy crime thrillers set in L.A., like (2001) Training Day, (1988) Colors, (1995) Heat, (2004) Collateral, (2018) Destroyer, (2012) End of Watch are in for a treat with this one.