Monday, March 2, 2009

FotM: THE FRENCH CONNECTION - Best Picture 1971

1971 was an interesting year for movies. The first year of the seventh decade of the 1900s saw the likes of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, KLUTE, MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER, WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, SHAFT, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and DIRTY HARRY all grace the silver screen. The film that came out smelling like roses, atop that veritable heap of cinematic classics was THE FRENCH CONNECTION, winner of the Oscar for Best Picture and 4 other golden boys that year. On the surface, watching the film for the first time I found myself questioning the validity of these honors. Then the final credits rolled and I realized I was an idiot.

Other than the equally brilliant BULLITT no one had ever seen cop films like the ones released in 1971. With DIRTY HARRY and THE FRENCH CONNECTION cops were shown as valiant and determined but also as flawed and driven sometimes to the point of fault. The badge adorned knights of the streets were shown as real human beings with real human emotions and real human character flaws. DIRTY HARRY did all this while masked with the iconic visage of one of the greatest purveyors of vigilante justice in the history of cinema but THE FRENCH CONNECTION made no such attempt to show it’s characters or their story through anything but the harsh prism of cold, hard reality.

What first caught me so off guard about THE FRENCH CONNECTION is how desperately simple it all plays. For the most part William Friedkin’s masterpiece bears more in common with an episode of Law and Order than say SERPICO or COLORS. Almost the entire movie focuses on one particular investigation led by two very determined cops. Very little is time is spent delving into their pasts or their private lives, likewise the case, while important to temporarily stopping the influx of drugs into the city bears very little significance in the grand scheme of things. What becomes crystal clear by the end of the movie though is that this is exactly the point.

The beauty of THE FRENCH CONNECTION is that it is not trying to tell an L.A. CONFIDENTIAL type story. Using the sparse cinematic language that film makers seemed to be so adept at during the 70’s Friedkin paints a sharp, concise, brutal picture of crime and justice and the men that dedicate their lives to trying to uphold a system that sadly often times doesn’t work the way it should in a world that more often than not doesn’t play fair. Within 100 minutes everyone in this film is able to tell a tale, touching on themes and ideas years ahead of their time, that to this day very few have been able to touch.

While I don’t know if THE FRENCH CONNECTION deserved to win Best Picture (Sorry but it was up against DIRTY HARRY and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and trying to pick between the 3 is like trying to pick a favorite child) there can be no doubt that it deserves it’s place amongst the all time great film classics. It in one fail swoops displays a style of film making almost all but forgotten today, yet deals with ideas and themes decades before their time. One would be hard pressed to find a better constructed cinematic nugget and the fact that it contains one of the greatest car chases of all time doesn’t hurt either.

9 comments:

Senor Granto said...

One of my Dad's all time favorites. The sequels were pretty bad though.

Ronin also has some great car chases.

Adam said...

Unfortunately, I haven't seen it yet. I never took the classes that made one watch 3 films a week. Since graduation, I've been "enrolled" in my own program, and have been trying to catch up on what I haven't seen yet. After reading this, "The French Connection" will definitely go on the list. I'll be sure to let you know my thoughts after I see it.

Oh, and this week, I'm going to watch "The Deer Hunter" and "Babel." Should be pretty cool.

Megan said...

I think that the entire point of The French Connection is that the job is their lives. I also don't think the sequels are based on true stories but the original is a true story. I'm just glad I didn't have to vote on best picture that year.

Adam - be prepared to be bored out of your mind iwth Babel. I found it to be like watching paint dry. What did CSUF make you do? I watched 1-2 films a day plus had to watch more at home when I was in school...

LittleDreamer said...

I suggested this movie to you a long time ago, little bro. Now, you take my advice!

Chris W said...

I agree with Megan's opinion of BABEL it's got some good performances and that's about it. I had a hard time caring about any of the characters and it's all pretty boring. Somehow I've never seen THE DEER HUNTER. I for sure need to change that.

Senor Granto said...

I saw Babel not even a year ago and can barely remember anything about it. I think its one of those where they were trying to go for Oscar gold and fell way short of the mark.

Adam said...

I think you guys are being too hard on Babel. I didn't really find it to be boring. At first, I thought it was moving a little slowly, but then I got caught up in the story and was fine. While I don't think it's the great film that it would like to be, I do think it's a solid film with good performances and a emotionally impacting story, or, technically, "stories." Personally, as far as Innaritu films go, I still like 21 Grams the best, but I think he's definitely a filmmaker to watch. Seen that one? Some of his directorial choices with Babel were really interesting, such as cutting out the sound so that all you heard what Chieko heard: nothing. I also liked the way he shot the scene in the club in the way he showed the action through the strobe lights. At the end of the day, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, but I think saying it was like watching paint dry is a bit much. The Babel I saw didn't fit that description.

Peace and love,
-Adam

Senor Granto said...

I've yet to see 21 Grams. The thing that stuck out the most to be about Babel was that poor day worker having to walk through the Mexican desert, that scene seemed to go on for days at a time.

Chris W said...

I think the scene with the poor day worker walking through the desert is part of what made me tune the movie out so much. I didn't find her character sympathetic in the least and felt she pretty much deserved to die out there in the desert. I know that's a little harsh and I think a lot of my views on illegal immigration skewed my perspective but that helped kill a movie I already wasn't that into.