Movie of the Week: Sorcerer (1977)

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William Friedkin directs Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer and Francisco Rabal in this New Hollywood remake of The Wages Of Fear

Where have you been all my life? Remaking a stone cold classic is folly… it almost never works. But this joins Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Magnificent Seven as an attempt to modernise a great movie that actually succeeds as an improvement as well as an update. Fucking alchemy, turning gold to diamonds. Not that it was considered any kind of success on release. Second only to Heaven’s Gate as a death blow to quality adult American cinema. These indulgent, overrunning costly auteur productions of the late seventies got directorial freedom permanently revoked from the mavericks whom Hollywood had rewardingly gambled on for a decade. The budget for Sorcerer grew and grew and grew. And what did Paramount and Universal get for backing the wunderkind behind The French Connection and The Exorcist? A dour, grimy, sweaty, pessimistic tale of doomed middle aged men shipwrecked by geopolitics. Mainly subtitled. And opening up the same month as Star Wars tore up the box office. Oof! The first I heard of it was in Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. His account of the troubled production and fatal release focused on the hubris of making a film like Sorcerer. He neglected to mention just how intensely fantastic this overwhelming experience is. Friedkin adds bookends to the main narrative. Giving us four convulsive mini-thrillers to introduce us to the desperate drivers. Letting us know just how they found themselves cornered in the middle of nowhere. Then we get the practicality and economics of expendable men driving temperamental nitro-glycerin over unforgiving terrain. Like the original, the action is just as gripping but we see constant critical glimpses of the destruction and displacement that the corporate machine has inflicted on this treacherous paradise and naive people. Every rattle, gunshot and rock crack spells death. We go existential. Tangerine Dream’s synth score caresses us and gives voice to our wailing dread. Even the happy ending is brutal. Realistic adventure. Wry political comment. Dangerous filmmaking. An immersive masterpiece.

10

 

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