The great William Friedkin has passed at age 87.

I was going to begin my brief obit (other obligations are pressing as we speak) with a headline that shouted “drat!…zounds!…now Friedkin will never come clean on the French Connection censorship thing!”

Because it is entirely fair and logical to presume that no one in his inner circle will now come forth to sully the late director’s name by confirming the likely truth of the matter, which is that “Hurricane Billydid, in fact, either ask for or approve the censoring of the Act One N-word scene in his 1971 Oscar-winning crime flick.

So yes, I’m a little bit angry and muttering “curses, foiled again!…he snuck out like a cat burglar!” But let’s put that story aside and show proper respect to a great, outspoken, occasionally turbulent director who ruled the ’70s with enormous drive and primal hunger and churning ambition.

Friedkin was one of those seriously ballsy grade-A hot shots who flourished when big-boy auterism was in flower…from the early to late ’70s he was one of the leaders of the “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” motorcycle club, standing side by side with Steven Spielberg, Brian DePalma, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Sidney Lumet, Stanley Kubrick, Bob Fosse, et. al.

And yet, truth be told, Friedkin’s serious golden god period lasted only eight years, or from ’70 through ’77…a chapter that encompassed the making and release of four grade-A films — The Boys in the Band (’70 — a delicious zeitgeist-capturing bitter comedy that I own on Bluray and watch every couple of years), The French Connection (’71 — his finest and most vigorous and super-adrenalized achievement — a truly great film…winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture), The Exorcist (’73 — an excellent, wholly believable horror classic….his commercial peak achievement) and Sorcerer (’77)…a first-rate, hugely ambitious action action thriller that not only disappointed commercially but killed Friedkin’s career momentum.

He recovered, of course, but Friedkin never reclaimed that special current of dynamic power and auteurist urgency…from the late ’71 opening of The French Connection through the collapse of Sorcerer six years later he was damn near king of the fucking world.

Hurricane Billy kept that major-auteur-fascination thing going for another seven years (’78 through ’85)…galloping along on his mighty egoistic steed with the making of four more films…The Brink’s Job (’78), Cruising (’80), Deal of the Century (’83) and To Live and Die in L.A. (’85), his second best urban crime flick and arguably his third best of all time.

A 35-year downshift period followed, during which time Friedkin directed The Guardian, Blue Chips, Jade, Rules of Engagement, The Hunted, Bug, Killer Joe and the forthcoming Venice Film Festival non-competitive selection, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.

If the keepers of Friedkin’s legacy want to do the right thing, they’ll push for the restoration of that censored French Connection scene and erase all copies of the edited bullshit 2021 version. If the Disney guys have any decency they’ll just forget about the whole matter…they’ll say “look, Friedkin was in his late 80s and censoring that scene was completely out of character for a guy known for his ballsiness and obstinacy, so let’s just forget it happened and restore the footage and be done with it.”

Friedkin Probably Did it, But Implying So Would Be Impolite,” posted on 6.20.23:

For days and days the French Connection censorship story has confounded everyone. The “whodunit” factor, I mean, although it’s been obvious for several days that the nine-second deletion was done at the behest of director William Friedkin (formerly known as Hurricane Billy).

Has the 87-year-old Friedkin gone silly in his old age? Bending over in obeisance to the wokesters? I personally think —- all due respect —- that this formerly ballsy, gold-standard helmer should be roasted on a spit for censoring his own film. It sets a terrible precedent.

Last Wednesday (6.14) I summed it all up. The bizarre deletion of that brief French Connection scene (’71) has apparently been done with Friedkin’s approval or at his behest….good heavens!

On Friday, 6.9, HE commenter “The Multiplexreported that “in Disney’s DCP asset list the currently-streaming version of The French Connection is listed as ‘2021 William Friedkin v2.'” This info, I noted, “is seemingly fortified by a statement from The Criterion Channel, passed along by “The Connection” in another 6.9.23 HE story titled “HE to Friedkin re Censorship Fracas.” CC’s statement said that “according to our licensor [Disney], this is a ‘Director’s Edit‘ of the film.”

So that’s it. Shame on that Friedkin mofo. And yet all the while several HE commenters have insisted that the issue won’t be settled until Glenn “the last word” Kenny has reported on it. I had expected Kenny’s piece to appear last week, but it didn’t. Behold…it finally surfaced this morning (“Who Censored ‘The French Connection’?” Is A Case That Only Popeye Doyle Can Solve“), and yet — hold on to your grief and your weltschmerz, Kenny fans! —the article contains no Friedkin smoking gun.

After reciting the same evidence that I reported several days ago — “2021 William Friedkin V2.” plus Criterion calling the censored version a “Director’s Edit” — Kenny merely says that “this ostensibly puts the ball in Friedkin’s court.” Ostensibly?

Kenny adds that (a) he’s “reached out to Friedkin through CAA and received no response” and that (b) “a film asset manager I’ve asked about this matter has reached out to Friedkin personally and received a response from Friedkin’s personal assistant saying basically nothing.” And the name of that tune is The Guess Who’s “No Sugar Tonight (In My Coffee).”

My favorite Kenny passage in the whole piece: “Jeffrey Wells, as mentioned, first brought the issue up on June 3rd, in a post titled “Criterion’s ‘French Connection’ Censorship.”

“Wells likes to cultivate a barrel-chested, combative, curmudgeonly air in his writings. (Commenting on the blanket of orange wildfire smoke that recently enveloped Manhattan, he shrugged it off, stating, “You should try breathing Hanoi air on a shitty day. Tough guys only.”) He’s long had differences with Criterion’s physical product practices, over issues like aspect-ratios and color timing. He almost invariably couches his complaints in ad hominem terms, and this French Connection business allowed him to really go to town in that respect.

“In one of several subsequent posts commemorating the Twitter rage over what many were still calling Criterion’s censorship of Friedkin’s film, Wells instructed the company’s president to ‘blow it out your ass,’ never specifying the “it” to which he referred. As with the inference that Criterion is some kind of ‘woke’ company, Wells believes that the label represents what he calls a ‘dweeb’ sensibility, and is populated by people who would more than likely snub him at receptions and on movie queues. And honestly, on the latter count, he’s probably not wrong, although not necessarily for the reasons he thinks.”