Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

With Sorcerer Safely on Blu-ray, Friedkin Sets His Sights on To Live and Die in L.A.

On June 2, director William Friedkin live-Skyped with a packed house at the Film Forum in New York for a screening of his brilliant film, Sorcerer, which is finally getting the attention it has been denied for almost four decades. “This is the best-looking print of this I’ve ever seen,” he told the crowd. “I’m a big fan of DCP [Digital Cinema Package, the digital file supplied to theatres] because it looks the way it looked to me through the camera. The colors are true, which is especially important for this picture. So you will see it the way I want it to be seen.”

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During the conversation with his fans, Friedkin also praised the gorgeous new Warner Archive Blu-ray print of the film, which mercifully supplants the pan-and-scan version that had polluted the market since 2005. “What a piece of shit that was—the guy who made that ought to stand in the dock,” said the disgusted director, who also took to Twitter to warn fans away from it. “If I were in charge of the firing squad, I would drop my hand.”

But wait—there’s more! “When we were making the Blu-ray, Warner asked us if we had any behind-the-scenes footage, and I didn’t think there was any,” said Friedkin. “But then I remembered my film editor Bud Smith had shot some—and it turns out he has about 37,000 feet of 16mm footage. So we’re going to edit that and put it out in a couple of years.” And if ever a movie cried out for a peek behind the scenes, it’s Sorcerer. (I hope to write more about the disaster-plagued shoot—including hurricanes, explosions and massive bouts of gangrene and malaria—in a later post…)

Friedkin is also working on a digital print of To Live and Die in L.A., which he thinks “will probably take another three or four years, because we do it frame by frame.”

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It almost sounded like sacrilege to hear the digital process spoken of so lovingly in a repertory house. But the director defended the format: “I think a lot of the complaints about digital sound like the guy who manufactured stagecoaches when the trains came along. If you light a scene well using digital, it looks great.

“And 35mm is in trouble—Technicolor is not developing it, Kodak is not making it,” he added. “On the other hand, we don’t know how long digital will last. But every 35mm is probably going to have to have a digital copy for wider use.”

But for many, digital is not always preferable—or even an option. “We treat 35mm prints like Faberge eggs,” said Bruce Goldstein, the Film Forum’s Director of Repertory Programming, who hosted the Friedkin event. “We just did a series of early Hitchcock films, and a lot of those are not on DCP.”

On a related (and kind of odd) note, a man in the audience asked why Sorcerer wasn’t shot in CinemaScope, of all things. (Short answer: This ain’t Brigadoon.) “The movie had a very claustrophobic feel, like a prison without walls,” Friedkin patiently explained. “So I didn’t want it to be a big wide-screen type of picture. We made the decision, without even discussing it really, to shoot it in 1:85 [aspect ratio]. I like a lot of films I’ve seen in Scope—but come to think of it, there’s not a single film among my favorites that’s shot in it.”

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