Wednesday 13 April 2016

Review: The French Connection

The French Connection (1971)
Cert: 18 / 104 mins / Dir. William Friedkin / Trailer

It certainly seems that the further back in time this series of reviews goes, the less I get what all the fuss was about. Don't get me wrong, William Friedkin's The French Connection has some great and iconic sequences in it, and for the most part is very enjoyable. But it's a solid-gold time capsule of the 1970s for all the right and wrong reasons. On the plus side, everything looks filthy and the movie appears to have been shot for about £40. The hand-held cameras feel immersive and the sense of urgency built up throughout is marvellous.

But the mumbled dialogue starts to grate after a while, particularly when plot-points are treated the same way as filler-lines, and the sound mix in general is all over the place (a particular point-loser is the scene in the club where the two central characters are talking at the bar while the band plays in the background. You can hear every footstep and ruffle of clothing from the extras because the audio has been recorded using set-mics (rather than being ADR'd) with the music dropped in afterwards. The atrocious effect is offset by having the 'full volume' band playing immediately prior to this, so you really feel like the dialogue was a complete afterthought which was filmed in post-production pickup. It's not even the first time I've noticed this in a movie. That's quite a niche bugbear to have, but no less infuriating for it. I certainly expect more from an Oscar-winning film. Nominated for the Best Sound gong too, amazingly). Don Ellis' intrusive score was also a frequent irritation.

But to be fair, I wasn't approaching this as a film-making textbook, but more as a cultural touchstone. Ironically, I see more influence in The French Connection on the gaming world than the cinematic one. Even in the early 70s, the crime-movie was by no means a new genre, but the various set-pieces within it feel like missions from GTA (tail the suspect's car, interrogate the perp without killing them), which lends the film a pertinence in 2016 that couldn't have been guessed at in 1971. There's also far more deadpan humour in here than I was expecting, which keeps things rolling along nicely.

But really, when you make your movie a fictionalised retelling of real events (to the point where your credits have an 'all characters are fictitious' statement), is there any point in ending on a series of stills overlaid with 'what happened to this person' updates?*1

Nothing happened to them William, you've just told us they didn't exist…

Have you really never seen this before?
Not in any real sense.
I have memories of it being on TV late at night when I was staying at my grandparents' house, but since I'd be around 8 at the time it's safe to say I wasn't really 'watching' it (although any cut which was butchered for TV broadcast at the time would probably have been fine for me to partake of, to be fair)

So are you glad you've finally have?
I am.

And would you recommend it, now?
I think so.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There ain't.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Gene Hackman starred in 1987's Superman IV: The Quest For Peace as did ol' Jek Porkins himself, William Hootkins and Peter 'uncredited roles throughout the entire Original Trilogy' Diamond.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Notwithstanding the way that the film just abruptly ends, like the production ran out of money...

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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