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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

The French Connection

Would whoever kidnapped William Friedkin in the late Seventies and replaced him with an evil twin please let the poor man go? In addition to all of the awful movies he has made since then, Friedkin has now gone back and messed with his crowning achievement, the 1971 Oscar-winning cop thriller, The French Connection. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released the film on DVD and also put out a good two-platter 20th Century Fox Award Series presentation. The DVD release had a passable color transfer, and the sound was embellished with a 5.1-channel Dolby Digital mix that gives the musical score and a few other noises an involving dimensionality. The film was always intended to have a documentary feel to it, and so darker scenes lose detail and add grain, and the colors are the typical, slightly bland colors of early Seventies films, but fleshtones are accurate and when the lighting is bright, the hues are solid. For Fox’s two-platter Blu-ray release, however, Friedkin or someone who looks and sounds exactly like him, went in and twiddled with the picture in an attempt to underscore the film’s Seventies roots. He’s so proud of what he’s accomplished that he even shows off the process in a 14-minute featurette on the second platter. Briefly, what he has done is to flatten the colors a little by setting the film in black-and-white and then adding over-saturated colors to the image so that they register at about a third of their natural intensity. The problem, and this is something he does not mention in his featurette, is that the process has been applied in a very sloppy manner. In Gene Hackman’s opening scene, for example, he is dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, and when he runs down a perpetrator in a vacant lot, the long shot of the red outfit bleeds so much it is practically a balloon around him, as if the shot had been badly colorized. If you look at the shot on the DVD, there’s no red that isn’t part of the suit. There are other instances where the effect is equally incongruous. If you’re just a casual fan who hasn’t seen the film in a while, you can put on the BD and enjoy the show thoroughly without noticing that anything is amiss, thanks to the film’s frantic energy. But if you are a hardcore fan, a critic, or cinematographer Owen Roizman, who was not involved with the transfer, you’ll probably be wondering if that roof sniper in the movie is still available for hire.

Hackman and Roy Scheider are New York cops who begin trailing a man that is acting like a mobster and eventually discover he is indeed arranging a very large shipment of drugs into the city. The procedural is frightening, in that Hackman’s character has no regard for rights or the property of individuals in his pursuit of criminals. In the end, he actually shoots a good guy rather than the villain, and gets away with it. The very dynamic between his character’s position as a film hero and the reality of his moral sensibilities is what has enabled the 103-minute film to endure without losing its power or appeal.

The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The sound is punched up to DTS on the BD and it is terrific. The DVD has an alternate French track in mono and optional English and Spanish subtitles. The BD has French and Spanish tracks in 5.1 Dolby, an isolated musical score in 5.1 Dolby, two additional Chinese subtitle tracks, a worthwhile trivia subtitle track that supplies a lot of background about the film’s production, and D-Box encoding.

On both versions, Hackman and Scheider speak, separately, for a little over 20 minutes each, with their talks randomly laid over two different sections of the film. Hackman describes the harrowing (and actually insane) shoot of the chase scene, in which the car he was driving was actually hit by a civilian at one point, and also talks about his insecurities at the beginning of the production, the research he did and what the part has done for him. Scheider admits he was amazed to have received an Oscar nomination for his role, since he’s just a sidekick, and also shares a number of good anecdotes about his experiences and Hackman’s experiences, both researching and making the film.

Both versions also have a full-length commentary by Friedkin, which would generally be a waste of time-he basically just describes what is happening on the screen-except that he often relates the events depicted to the true story behind them and identifies what was real and what was altered. He does also explain how a few sequences were staged and at one point, rather bizarrely, he mistakenly references San Quentin when he intended to identify Alcatraz. How does anybody mix up San Quentin with Alcatraz?

The second platter of the DVD has two retrospective documentaries, one running 54 minutes and the other running 57 minutes, which, when combined with the commentaries, supply a reasonably complete idea of how the film was conceived and the conflicts that were overcome in its execution. There is also about 11 minutes of fairly interesting deleted scenes, which are presented alone or with optional introductions by Friedkin, and there is a trailer and still photos.

The BD’s second platter retains the two documentaries and the deleted scenes, although Friedkin’s introductions have been discarded for an optional commentary track. There is also a good 10-minute piece on the film’s musical score, a nice 20-minute segment where Friedkin and producer Philip D’Antoni retrace the car chase sequence, another 19-minute segment on the relationship between the film and ‘what really happened,’ another 11-minute interview with Hackman about his character, a 5-minute segment on how the Brooklyn Bridge scene was shot (they actually tied up traffic for a couple of hours to pull it off), and a 14-minute segment intended to draw parallels between the film and traditional film noir features but meant primarily to promote Fox film noir titles.

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon