4 October 2008

SORCERER (Dir. William Friedkin, 1977, US) - A film waiting to be rediscovered

Released in 1977, the year of 'Star Wars', 'Rocky' and 'Taxi Driver', director William Friedkin's 'Sorcerer', an expensive and troubled remake of the classic 1950s French thriller, 'Wages of Fear', came and went with a deathly silence that also signalled the demise of Friedkin's commercial power at the box office. Already having made his name with films like 'The French Connection' and 'The Exorcist', Friedkin's reputation as a film maker was characterised by a willingness to take on genres and offer audiences with intelligent, serious and controversial films.

However, on its release, most critics and audiences turned away from 'Sorcerer' with disdain, trashing the film and it's director as an example of Hollywood auteurism that was clearly out of control and beyond the constraints of the studio involved. Why is it then after nearly two decades, 'Sorcerer' still has not been given a proper DVD release in the UK? This does seem very strange and quite peculiar when considering how underrated Friedkin's film is in light of today's empty and hollow Hollywood adventure films.

Clouzot's original adaptation of the novel by Georges Arnaud borrowed the fatalism of many of the classic American noirs like 'Thieves Highway' and offered a provocative critique on greed and failure. Friedkin originally wanted Steven McQueen in the lead role but his demands for accommodating his wife, Ali McGraw, in a supporting role meant that he was forced to secure the services of Roy Scheider, whom he had worked with prior on 'The French Connection'.

The story brings together four desperate criminals who reluctantly take on the job of transporting nitroglycerin to a primitive oil refinery through the ancient jungles of an unknown part of South America. I recently read somewhere a critic stating the importance of 'Sorcerer' as a key step in the development and later emergence of Michael Mann as a spirited advocate of 'Tangerine Dream' as a key signifier in the universe of Mann's ambient narratives. The influence is undeniable on a filmmaker like Mann, especially in Friedkin's depiction of man's struggle to attain some kind of personal transcendence that occurs on both a spiritual and emotional plane.

Friedkin's film is a rare anti-genre illustration of 70's authorial obsessions and his evocative depiction of the South American landscape particularly the journey through the jungle is memorable in how it documents the textures of a physical struggle with nature, capturing with great care the haunting imagery of rain, mud, sweat and blood. 'Sorcerer' is a brewding and tough film that reminded me of the classic Howard Hawks movie 'Only angels have wings', another film that seems to test the limits of male camaraderie. Not a brilliant film, but forgotten and worthy of being rediscovered by a new generation that may hopefully elevate it to a much more notable status within the oeuvre of Friedkin.

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