Item under review: Sorcerer Blu-Ray
Much like the titular truck, William Friedkin’s film Sorcerer was destined for doom. A high profile remake of the French classic The Wages of Fear, Friedkin’s film had the grand cosmic misfortune of opening a mere one month into Star Wars’ game changing blockbuster run. Theatergoers stayed away in droves and cinema owners pulled it from screens in favor of re-booking that space opera. Sorcerer was soon forgotten by critics and audiences alike and consigned to the dustbin of history.
Critical reviews of the time were harsh, it was seen as too cerebral, hard to follow, and a folly by some. Like Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie before it and Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate after it, Sorcerer was seen as an indictment of the “New Hollywood” system: it was too downbeat, had unlikeable characters, and a generally pessimistic worldview. Also, like the soon to come Apocalypse Now, it was characterized as a runaway production: a young, hotshot director taking his production far away from the studio’s oversight and deep into the jungle where it was subject to escalating costs and egos. Sorcerer was everything about the current Hollywood system that was on its way out and Star Wars was its obvious future.
After its brief theatrical run, Sorcerer was a film more talked about than seen. It had shoddy video releases on VHS and DVD at the respective dawn of each of those formats, and neither did justice to its lush cinematography and innovative Tangerine Dream score. A few years ago William Friedkin famously had to sue the two co-producing studios, Paramount and Universal, to map out who had home video rights to pave the way for its blu-ray release. That blu-ray release now seems to be teetering on the brink of being out of print, with copies now only available on the 3rd party/reseller circuit, and beginning to command high prices.
Despite these issues, Sorcerer has slowly collected a critical rehabilitation among those who seeked it out over the past four decades since its release. It has even been hailed as Friedkin’s lost classic, to be ranked up with The Exorcist and The French Connection as a pure distillation of his strengths and talents.
Sorcerer’s greatest weaknesses are also its strengths. Critics of the time took issue with the film’s obtuse structure: the first 45 minutes of the film are a series of globally disparate back stories for the film’s protagonists, most of which are filmed in languages other than English. This structure was seen as alienating and off-putting at the time, with the foreign releases restructuring the film into a traditionally linear format and refashioning these scenes to be used as flashbacks peppered throughout the film. The fact that many of these foreign releases of Sorcerer also retitled it to Wages of Fear goes to show how much even the film’s own distributors reacted against Friedkin’s original vision. If Christopher Nolan used this same narrative structure today, he would be seen as daring. For Friedkin in the ‘70’s it was seen as a bridge too far.
After the grand failure of Sorcerer, Friedkin’s Hollywood career never quite recovered. No major studio entrusted him with the kinds of budgets and freedoms that he enjoyed with Sorcerer. That is not to say that his career was over, To Live and Die in LA proved that he could create work that was both critically and financially successful. Cruising proved that he could still move forward projects with dark and challenging subject matter. Like the successful truck in Sorcerer, Friedkin had to alter the course of his career and improvise to survive.
Written by Michael Felix
“Is this movie in 3D?”
“No, but your face is!”
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