I Found It At the Movies: 1971–The French Connection (William Friedkin)


Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.

1971: The French Connection (William Friedkin)

The French Connection is easily the biggest influence on my first feature, The Last Lullaby. I love the way this Friedkin film looks, and I love the way it sounds.  

Let’s start with the look. The cinematographer, Owen Roizman, has a pretty impressive body of work. Aside from this marvel, he was also responsible for the look of The ExorcistThe Taking of Pelham One Two ThreeThree Days of the CondorNetwork and Straight Time. What I love most about his work in The French Connection is that it is both raw and painterly. Usually I find movies that are gritty and raw not terribly pleasing on an aesthetic level, and the films that I consider extremely visually refined can often be a little distancing. But here Friedkin and Roizman are able to combine, in a unique way, a sense of intimacy with a painterly look.  

As for sound, the film mostly relies on ambient noises to propel it forward. There is very little music. And when music is used, it’s usually between rather than during scenes.

I also love Friedkin’s use of the zoom. And both the extended, wordless opening and the abrupt ending continue to be references for me. I still think this stands as one of the high points of Hollywood naturalism, as well as a tremendous hybrid of art and entertainment. I would argue that much of Michael Mann’s early style comes from this film and that Friedkin’s formal achievements here still tend to be a little undervalued.   

What moviemakers can learn:  Want to learn a lot about how to use sound expressively in a film? Plug in your headphones, close your eyes, and listen to (rather than watch) The French Connection.  

Other contenders for 1971: I still have several things I need to see from this year. These include: Ken Russell’s The Devils, Robert Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer (Quatre nuits d’un rêveur) and Jacques Rivette’s Out 1, noli me tangere. I need to re-watch Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry, as it’s been too long since I’ve seen it to know where it’d place on this list. Meanwhile, from this year, I really like Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs and François Truffaut’s Two English Girls (Les deux Anglaises et le continent). I love Alan Pakula’s Klute. And my closest runner-up (and one of my other favorite films of all time) is Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller.  

After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work raising money for his next feature, Peril.

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