The legendary director gets political about his Deep South anti-fairy tale, Killer Joe.
William Friedkin shot to fame in the early '70s as a major figure in the blossoming American 'New Wave' with films like The French Connection and The Exorcist. When LWLies met with Friedkin recently for a quick chat about his madcap Deep South caper Killer Joe, his first film since 2006's often overlooked neuro-horror Bug, we found a moviemaker who, at 76, appears as refreshingly acerbic as ever.
LWLies: A lot of people in the press are interpreting Killer Joe as a sort of fairy tale. Is that a mode of interpretation you are comfortable with?
Friedkin: I coined it. When I was asked about why the screenplay appealed to me, I said: 'To a large degree, it’s a warped Cinderella story.' It’s about Dottie (Juno Temple), this young woman who, like all little girls, is looking for Prince Charming to take them out of the terrible hovel in which they live which, in this case, has a wicked stepmother and a father and brother who are evil, and a real mother who tried to kill her. Every little boy, at one time, wants to be Prince Charming and sweep his lover off her feet and take her off to be a princess. I saw Killer Joe as a metaphor for that. Dottie finds her Prince Charming; he just happens to be a hired killer.
Do you see the film as a comment on American poverty?
Very much. I see the world in this way. I see most of what goes on in the world as pretty fucked up, but they’re seemingly ordinary and normal. Underlying so much of what is considered normal in this world is pure evil, disguised as normal behavior. One day, there’s a normal man called Peter Sutcliffe; he’s a happily married, family man. He gets on with his neighbours, and one day he’s the Yorkshire Ripper. You can see that in our democracy as well. I see most of our politicians as completely crazed and out of touch with reality.
On both sides of the divide?
Of course. I don’t trust or believe any of them. It’s unfortunate, because I think most politicians, before they achieve office, are probably decent enough people. Then when they get in office, their single interest becomes perpetuating themselves in office.
What do you think of the idea that democracy is the process of compromise?
That’s right; it’s good for parties to move to the centre. Government in a democracy should be from the centre. I’m not talking about that, I’m saying all these politicians are warped and crazed. I don’t care what side of the aisle they come from, they continually send our kids off to get mashed up in stupid wars, and they’ve mismanaged the economy for decades in my country; we’re 17 trillion dollars in debut, and in Europe you’re all broke. Young people are going to be saddled with a debt you basically can’t pay off, and it’s owned by the Chinese.
Will you vote at the next election?
I can’t. I’m sorry, but I can’t vote when there is no-one to vote for. I know for some people that’s heretic.
Did you vote in the last election?
No. I liked Barack Obama very much. I know him, and I’ve met with him a few times before he became President. I thought his Presidency was going to be a wonderful time for America. I think most Americans thought that, and gravitated on to his side. McCain was like a dotty old man, and he wasn’t in the moment. Obama offered hope and made promises, and I don’t think he’s kept any of them. I don’t think he’s been a good leader, so I can’t vote for him.
Who could you vote for?
The people I could vote for were Franklin D Roosevelt and Harry S Truman. If it wasn’t for Harry Truman, we’d be speaking Japanese and eating sushi. I think he saved America and much of the free world, and I think he saved a lot of Japanese lives as well, although that’s very controversial. A lot of people feel Harry Truman was a butcher, and if we’d lost the war he’d be in the dock. They were prepared to fight to the last child.
What do you love about movies?
Film is the most important art form created in the twentieth century. Film presents an opportunity to present ideas, largely visually but also through dialogue. That just wasn’t something people could do 150 years ago, and it’s provided creative people with an outlet for their thoughts and passions in a way that is totally different to painting a picture or writing a book. Most art forms require isolation. You create solely alone, standing in front of a canvas with a brush or some paint. Or you’re sat in front of a blank piece of paper with a typewriter or a pen for company. As a filmmaker, you have to use what we call a one-ton pencil, which is a vast crew of people to whom you must communicate and express your ideas and the images in your mind and the way they move and combine. I see it and value it as an extraordinary artform and the best forum for ideas in the larger public realm.