Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, September 3, 2023



With the recent passing of William Friedkin, another giant of Hollywood has exited stage-left. I first wrote about hinearly ten years ago, and won't repeat myself here other than to say this: if you followed the advice of film critics to avoid seeing his then-new release Sorcerer back in 1977, it's high time you rectified that error.

Like the 1953 classic Wages of Fear, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, Sorcerer carves a taut, compelling path through the cinematic jungle following four desperate men as they pilot two heavy trucks through rough country to transport a load of highly unstable nitroglycerin to a huge oil field fire burning out of control. A fire like that can only be extinguished with a massive explosion: thus the nitro.  Although there are no tire-squealing car vs. train chases through a big city or hair-raising supernatural visitations by the Devil himself, every bump in that crude hacked-from-the-wilderness road is a lethal threat, which makes an extended, impossibly tense bridge crossing scene something that you'll really do have to see to believe. In its own quieter way, Sorcerer is every bit as edge-of-your-seat thrilling as The French Connection or The Exorcist.*

A lot of people were unhappy with the tone of that New York Times obituary, which dismissed much of Friedkin's work as "interesting but deeply flawed." Among those taking umbrage was Tim Goodman -- erstwhile TV critic for the SF Examiner and Chronicle for a dozen years before becoming chief TV critic at the Hollywood Reporter for another decade -- who responded with a passionate and spirited defense of Friedkin on his Substack page which, like all of Tim's writing, is a great read.**

The NPR show Fresh Air recently re-aired an interview with Friedkin that was first broadcast in 1988,  but has lost none of its relevance. For more Friedkin from the man himself -- his methods of casting, how the Movie Gods are really in control of things, and some great inside stories about French Connection and The Exorcist -- here's a fascinating conversation he had with Alec Baldwin (well before the Rust scandal) for the WNYC podcast Here's the Thing.  It's worth a listen.

* A scene that took three full months to film.

** Tim is also the Godfather of this blog, but that's a story for another day.


Fans of the FX show Justified, which ran on FX for six seasons starting in 2010, will be happy to see the main character of Raylan Givens -- a US Marshal always ready to cool the jets of a criminal who Just-Won't-Listen with an accurately fired bullet -- is back on screen in a somewhat older and grayer incarnation for the FX reboot Justified: City Primeval. Raylan now has the requisite teenage daughter to challenge, vex, and confound him, thus rendering his crime-fighting life all the more problematic. He's still good with a gun, of course, because some things never change, but rather than work his home turf of Harlan County, Kentucky, this season unfolds in the presumably primeval and cinematically crime-ridden dystopia of Detroit.

Not being a TV critic, I'll leave any deep analysis of the show to those who get paid to evaluate television -- and who happen to be a lot smarter than me. I liked Justified well enough to watch it every week, and the same goes for the reboot ... but I'm easy: all I ask of a TV show is that it entertain me enough so that I don't think about anything else for an hour or so.  Justified: City Primeval clears that bar and then some. Still, given that I haven't stepped onto a sound stage for nearly seven years now -- and thus have no more connection to this show than any other civilian kicking back in their Barcalounger while basking in the LED glow of a flatscreen -- you might wonder why I bother to mention it.  Just one reason: the cinematography is exceptionally good, particularly the night interior and exterior scenes. Whoever the DP is, he/she and their crew are doing a wonderful job, because this show looks terrific.


Since it's late summer -- and I don't have much to say this month -- I've reached back into the dusty archives for a re-run titled Learning to Work.  It's a safe bet that the only reason I managed to hit the ground running when I first rolled into Hollywood was that I already knew how to work. This may sound simple -- and maybe it is for most people -- but I had to learn the hard way, as usual, and my education took place in a small mom-and-pop deli after I'd graduated from school.  

I bring this up because the founder of Erik's Deli (who now commands an empire of twenty-seven deli franchisees) threw a 50th-year reunion/anniversary bash for past employees last weekend, so down I went to share memories and swap stories with a few of the surviving members of that crew. It was a good time, and a useful reminder that none of us accomplishes much of anything on our own. As the saying goes, it takes a village.

Enjoy this last gasp of summer, kiddos, because .... winter is coming, and with it -- hopefully -- an end to the strike. Fingers crossed.