Hollywood accounting is a long standing joke, as Art Buchwald once found out. He famously sued Paramount for the money owed him for conceiving Coming to America and was told that the film never turned a profit – even though it was one of the most successful films of that year. Pity William Friedkin, who has filed a civil complaint against Paramount and Universal to find out how much money his 1977 film Sorcerer made, according to Deadline.
At the time – and as often happens to successful directors making a passionate film – the film was considered a bomb. Possibly even a fiasco as Friedkin set out to remake the Henri-Georges Clouzot classic Wages of Fear (now available from The Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-ray, and well worth watching) and set it in South America. The shoot was nightmarish, and much of the stunt work was practical, which involved getting big trucks through the jungle. The film was written off as a misfire of hubris following Friedkin’s triumphs with The French Connection and The Exorcist.
Time has shown that the film has a cult following, and though both his previous successes are masterful in terms of direction, this seemed a fuller portrait of Friedkin as an artist. Much of the morality that infused French Connection came to life in Sorcerer, which takes a very bleak view on humanity. If French Connection had those elements, they also fit into the procedural elements of the narrative; here it was made explicit. But Friedkin was due to fail because – for whatever reason – if a director achieves too much success, he must make something that people don’t like whether it’s earned or just resentment. But many of those films, be they Steven Spielberg‘s 1941, Francis Ford Coppola‘s One From the Heart, Quentin Tarantino‘s Jackie Brown or M. Night Shyamalan‘s Post-Signs career are taken to task because of the artist and not the art.
Though it’s hard to say if Friedkin has much of a case, it’s also fair to say that older movies like that rarely lose money, and after thirty years of television and home videos sales, it’s possible that the film has turned a profit. The film is due to be reconsidered, and Universal (who owns the domestic home video rights as of last) has only put out the film on DVD in a full-frame transfer. The problem with lawsuits such as these is they could keep the studios from wanting to re-release it because then they might have to give Friedkin some money. Lose-lose.
What’s your favorite ”Underrated” film by a great director?