Can We Hate William Friedkin For “Slamming” Comic Book Films?

If you are like me, you probably have a Yahoo Alerts set up for the words “comic book” to catch any news stories featuring that as a subject. If so, this week, your alert e-mails were filled with this story, probably with exact these headlines:

‘Exorcist’ director slams trend for comic book stories–Briebart.com

William Friedkin thinks comic book movies are for the “lowest common denominator”–IFC.com

‘Exorcist’ director slams comic book adaptations–Digital Spy

‘Exorcist’ director slams trend for comic book stories–Google News

All of these articles stem from the reporting that Agence France-Presse did on the Toronto Film Festival, where Friedkin was showing his latest film, Killer Joe. A quick perusal of the articles would give the impression that Friedkin is blaming the comic book film trend for what he sees as the lack of “serious” films like the kind he is known for directing being made.

If you are a comic book or comic book movie fan who is prone to snap judgments and knee-jerk reactions (and you probably are. I know I am.) then this article could be enough to get your blood boiling. You might say, “This coming from a guy who hasn’t been relevant since (if your are being generous) To Live and Die in L.A. came out in 1985 (or if you are not) 1973’s The Exorcist?” Or, you might say, “Maybe if your resume didn’t have such gems as Cruising, Deal of the Century, or Jade on it, maybe you’d have a better chance of getting a movie made.” Or you could present a case for the high quality of comic book films, using The Dark Knight as an example.

These are all very natural reactions when someone like Friedkin singles out the comic book film genre to”slam,” like the above titles said he did. Only one problem to this scenario–did Friedkin really “slam” comic book films? A closer look might indicate that he really didn’t.

The inflammatory headlines spring from just two quotes by Friedkin in the article. Here is the first one (emphasis mine):

“It’s harder and harder to do (original adult material) in this climate of
American film… which is mostly concerned with movies that are comic books, and remakes,” he said.

From this quote alone, it doesn’t seem like Friedkin has a specific bone to pick with the comic book film in particular, but rather Hollywood’s lack of originality. The inclusion of “…and remakes” at the end of his statement seems to indicate this. So, by this quote alone, it doesn’t appear that Friedkin has slammed comic book films at all, or, at the very least, not singled them out for his disdain.

However, there is another quote on the subject, which brings Friedkin’s views closer to the “slam” territory:

“The audiences have changed,” he lamented. “They are conditioned by
television and television is aimed at the lowest common denominator… their expectations are lower.”

Also, “the studios, when I started directing, were run by people who had made films,” he said. “Today they’re former agents or lawyers and (the studios) are owned by gigantic corporations that have to appeal to the lowest common denominator.”

On the surface, this quote seems more like a “slam” at film audiences (although giving them an out by saying they were “conditioned by television”) and studio executives than comic book films. However, if you are the sensitive sort, you can extrapolate that Friedkin believes that comic book films are designed to appeal to the “lowest common denominator.” And that has to be a bad thing, right?

Well, it depends on how you look at it. And if you consider TV aiming at the lowest common denominator. I’m sure we all can come up with a list of ten or more TV shows that fly in the face of that presumption. But as it stands, it seems like a stretch to come up with Friedkin slamming comic book films out of these two quotes.

But these two quotes are the only references Friedkin makes about the state of current cinema in general and comic book films in particular. The majority of the article is about Killer Joe–what brought him to the work, his creative process while directing it, etc. The fact that the article’s original writer, Michel Comte, would choose this supposed “slam” on the comic book film–a minor part of the piece–as the title of his article seems to me to be making controversy out of very little to get more hits for your story on the internet.

Note the elipsises in each of the quotes, which indicates a portion of the quote not being used. Who knows, maybe Friedkin wails away on Jonah Hex on that removed portion of the quote.  Or maybe it’s just a bunch of “ums” and “wells” that were taken from the quote to make it read smoother. Or it might be something that fleshes out his real opinions on the topic.  Too bad there wasn’t another interview with him on the net where he talks about the subject in more detail.

Well, actually, there is. Phil Brown at Collider.com sat down with Friedkin at that very same Toronto Film Festival and during the course of the interview, the current state of Hollywood and the role comic book films play in it came up. Here is the question and answer:

What sort of relationship or even interest do you have in the Hollywood system right now?

Friedkin: The sort of things that are the staple of Hollywood right now like films based on comic books or videogames or toys don’t tend to attract me. I’m not talking about their quality or lack of it or whatever. I thought that the Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr. was really good. But much of it is not for me, I’m not the audience for that. When I was working in the Hollywood system from the 60s into the early 90s, I was very much in tune with what they were making. That’s just changed.

See? Here, Friedkin doesn’t seem to be slamming the comic book film (or films based on toys and/ or videogames either) at all. As a matter of fact, he seems to be going out of his way NOT to slam them. He’s simply saying that the subject matter just isn’t something he likes to work on. There’s really nothing truly inflammatory about that.

The thing is, he probably said something very similar in the venue that Comte is reporting on (be it a interview, press conference or whatever). But Comte either interpreted what Friedkin said as a slam on the comic book film or is deliberately trying to interpret that to get the readers attention. And it probably worked. This here post is an example that it has garnered clicks to his writing. But I’m sure there are comic book fans out their burning Friedkin in effigy, thinking he “slammed” a form of cinema they hold dear, when really, he might not have. And that’s a shame.

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About William Gatevackes 1931 Articles
William is cursed with the shared love of comic books and of films. Luckily, this is a great time for him to be alive. His writing has been featured on Broken Frontier.com, PopMatters.com and in Comics Foundry magazine.

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