Damien Chazelle paid tribute to late great director William Friedkin on Sunday in a moving speech at the Venice Film Festival where Friedkin’s last film “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial” premiered out-of-competition to warm applause.
Friedkin, who died on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles at age 87, completed the film – which stars Kiefer Sutherland as Lt. Commander Queeg who stands trial for mutiny for taking command from a ship captain he feels is acting in a mentally unstable way that is endangering both the ship and its crew – shortly before passing,
“When I first became aware of the name Billy Friedkin I was a child, and the name itself filled me with fear,” said Chazelle, who is presiding over this year’s Venice jury.
“I probably had ‘The Exorcist’ in my mind. I hadn’t see the film yet, but I’d seen the letters written in that typeface, and the sound of the word “Fried-kin” seemed to suggest to me the darkest, most forbidden recesses of the imagination. The kind of things that inspire nightmares for the rest of your life,” Chazelle added.
“So to me William Friedkin meant fear. But today I think of his name, and I think of love. I think of love of cinema, love of all art, and a vision of how the arts can intersect and inform each other. A vision of cinema that is not separate, but inextricably linked to music, to literature, to painting. Of course, to opera,” Chazelle pointed out.
“I think of the kindness and generosity he showed me when I was starting out as filmmaker,” Chazelle went on to recount that when he had just made his 2014 film, “Whiplash” – “for which my editor and I had the car chase in “The French Connection” playing on a loop while we cut,” Friedkin invited him to his home.
“And I will never forget the experience of discovering that a man responsible for movies that punched me so mercilessly in the gut, like “Sorcerer,” “French Connection,” “Cruising,” and “Killer Joe,” was in person so warm, so welcoming, so sweet, humble, loving.”
“Getting to know Billy and to spend time with him and Sherry [Lansing] – and their marriage in itself was one of the all-time love stories – this was one of the great honours of my life,” said Chazelle.
“But returning to the idea of fear. There’s been a lot of it in the world of cinema lately, especially in Hollywood. So it seems we lost Friedkin when we needed him more than ever. He was fearless in every sense of the word. You get a sense in his movies of a filmmaker and his characters pushing up against the boundaries of what is possible and finally stepping past them.”
The William Friedkin commemoration in Venice also comprised tributes from the festival’s artistic director Alberto Barbera and by “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial” producer Annabelle Dunne.
The Republic Pictures feature is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Hermon Wouk. The story has previously been adapted for the screen in a 1954 film By Edward Dmytryk with Humphrey Bogart as Queeg and as a Robert Altman-directed 1988 TV movie.
“The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” which is distributed by Paramount Global Content Distribution, will drop on Paramount+ this fall in all international markets where the streaming service is active and will play on Showtime in the U.S. It will not get a theatrical release.