In a 7.27 Audio Visual Club interview, Killer Joe director William Friedkin tells Sam Adams that the first French Connection Bluray — the wretched, bleachy-toned version that came out in February 2009 — was the result of technical errors by Fox Home Video and that Friedkin didn’t know how bad it was until dp Owen Roizman showed him a commercial copy. This brazenly contradicts Friedkin’s vigorous defense of this disc when it first came out, of course.
Adams: So what was your reaction to the criticisms of the French Connection Bluray? You personally re-timed the colors for Bluray, and some people felt you’d defaced a masterpiece.
Friedkin: “Oh, the French Connection Bluray, the master that we made was absolutely perfect. Then when Fox took it out to reproduce it, mass production, it goes through four different companies. It got screwed up badly, and I didn’t know that. I had only seen the master; I never saw any of the playback copies. And Owen Roizman, the cameraman, got a copy at Best Buy and said it looked like shit! He denounced it. I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He brought his copy in, and we ran it next to the master, and he was right. The prints were badly made. So we remade them, he and I supervised a new version of the Blu-ray, which went into a Best Buy exclusive, for I think six months, and then it’ll go broad — it’ll replace the other one. What I learned was that Fox, when they put that DVD out, there was a little warning inside the box that said, ‘This may not play well on your home receiver. If it doesn’t, write to w-w-w dot so-and-so, so-and-so. We’ll send you a disc that will make your own playback receiver compatible.’ This was like a caveat emptor. And Roizman was right. The copies were all over the place. That’s not a perfect process, either. We made new ones that should be great, because we had a different company do the mass release. They’re at Best Buy, and when their exclusive expires, they’ll be everywhere.”
Friedkin also says that the ownership of Sorcerer is still hard to pin down, but that it has something to with a defunct “tax-dodge” company called CIC.
Adams: “You’ve made films that were successful and films that weren’t, but it seems like the failure of Sorcerer is particularly painful for you.”
Friedkin: “All of my films are not successful. I don’t have the same affection for all of them. Sorcerer has been a noose around my neck since 1977, but I can’t let it die that way. The films that you make are very much like your children or someone you feel very close to. Not necessarily a relative. You would do everything you could to save them. And that’s what I’m doing. It’s all in God’s hands, and I know that. Believe me, when I heard that both studios were claiming that they didn’t own the film and they didn’t know who did, my first reaction was, ‘Oh, the hell with it. Let me just let it die.’ And then something else kicked in, you know, where I can’t do that. So I have no idea how it’s going to wind up, but if it does wind up that either I can get them to put it out or somebody else, it’ll be out there for whoever wants to see it. That’s all.”
Adams: “It’s always been true, but it seems especially so now that a film is forgotten if it’s not in circulation on DVD, let alone available in a nice new 35mm print.”
Friedkin: “There are no 35mm prints. A 35 print has a shelf-life of about two years before it starts to fade and die. You take The Godfather, Paramount’s crown jewel. A couple of years ago they went to make a Bluray of it, they went into their vaults to get the negative, and it had all faded. In their own vaults! Because that’s the shelf life of a 35. I had a print of Sorcerer. We put it up on reels, projected it, and it was all red! But Paramount had made a brand-new print of Sorcerer a year ago for the American Cinematheque. Or ‘Cinema-drek,’ I’m not sure of the pronunciation. They ran it there; it was a full house, and lines around the block. I was there; the print was beautiful; I did a q & a. Now they say they don’t own the film and they don’t know who does. And I know what’s going on. I know what’s behind it.”
Adams: “Which is what, in your opinion?”
Friedkin: “They’re trying to get rid of all 35s, by hook or crook. They don’t even want to have a bookkeeper up there logging this stuff in and out. What both studios did when they made it, they put it into ownership by an offshore company. It was a company called CIC, Cinema International Corporation, which was only licensed to release films overseas, not in the U.S. That company is out of business. They folded it and they now each have their own distribution, Paramount and Universal. That was like a tax-dodge thing, CIC. And now that’s gone, and I think they have a bookkeeping problem about admitting where the hell it is. A lot of films got caught up in this. A friend of mine at Lincoln Center tried to get Blade Runner and was told they didn’t own it and they didn’t know who did! It was weird, because I happen to know the guy who owns it. He’s a close personal friend. He’s a guy named Bud Yorkin, who with Jerry Perenchio put up the completion bond for Blade Runner. When the film was made and went $8 million over [budget], they had to come up with $8 million in return for which they owned all the ancillary rights: T-shirts, toys, whatever, video. They own the sequel and remake rights, so they’re developing a prequel to Blade Runner. But the studio won’t tell you that Bud Yorkin owns Blade Runner and they don’t.”
Adams: “You’re obviously enthusiastic about getting your films out on the DVD.”
Freidkin: “I love it. DVD and Bluray is the real American Cinematheque. Without DVD or Bluray, millions of people will not have seen some of the greatest classics made around the world. All sorts of films, good or bad, they’re now available, and not only in an accessible format, but in a terrific reproduction. I love Bluray and DVD, and I watch them all the time. And I don’t know what’s playing at my local cinema. Or care.”