The first words we hear uttered by William Friedkin are, “To me, the two most interesting characters in the history of the world are Hitler and Jesus. There’s good and evil in everybody, that’s the truth that I believe.” Admittedly, this is a jarring way to begin a documentary. Friedkin then qualifies his statement by saying that Hitler was an example of a man who contained extremes, to make sure the audience doesn’t misconstrue his words. This controversial statement embodies the Friedkin we are shown in the documentary, Friedkin Uncut: he is a man who is fascinated by and tries to embody extremes.
Friedkin Uncut is Francesco Zippel’s directorial debut and love song to director, William Friedkin, who brought us films such as The Exorcist, The French Connection, and Bug. This documentary premiered as part of Chicago International Film Festival’s programming, rather appropriately as Friedkin is a Chicago native. It is an expansive look at Friedkin’s work, his dedication to his craft, and the lengths he was willing to go to make something spectacular. From shooting the chase scene in The French Connection himself to even assisting with an exorcism, there’s no doubt that Friedkin always went to the extreme to create a film that no one had ever seen before. However, this documentary is also, perhaps subconsciously, an in-depth look at the rampant gender inequality in Hollywood.
“The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved, and capable of loving.” It’s statements like these – sweeping, painfully earnest, and deeply resonant – that characterize Morgan Neville’s latest documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The film follows the life of the late Fred Rogers, host and showrunner of the influential children’s program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, yet it’s not so much about Fred Rogers the man as it is about the philosophy he birthed and tried his hardest to live by through his work. Neville knows, as all documentarians should, that the best way into a person’s life is through the world they build for others. By taking this approach, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? evades all the myth-making and sentimentality that once seemed inevitable in reflecting on the life of someone as venerated and impossibly good as Rogers, resulting instead in a film overflowing with true emotion and poignant, necessary lessons for the American future.
Most of the films I’ve covered on this site thus far have been very dark and gritty critically acclaimed dramas, or completely terrible and underwhelming misfires. Because of this, it may seem like I only enjoy depressing and cynical things. This is not true. In reality, I’m a giant softie.
One minute I’ll be watching a really disturbing and sad episode of Black Mirror, and the next I won’t shut up about how fantastic Paddington 2 is. However, as much as I love Paddington 2, the film that has made me the happiest this year is Faces Places. This is a new documentary from the famous French street artist JR, and the very famous French filmmaker Agnes Varda, who was the only woman making films in the French new wave. She and JR seem like very different people at first, but they end up being the perfect people to helm this film.