Sorcerer

Sorcerer ★★★★½

Scheider: I was rehearsing to stay alive. When we got to the Dominican Republic, I appreciated all that practice back in the States. Billy’s approach to Sorcerer ruled out rear-projection or trick photography. The actors, the vehicles, and the terrain were too closely integrated into the composition of each shot. So what you see in the film is exactly what happened. When I take a mountain road on two wheels, on a road with potholes the size of shell craters, that’s the way it was. No one but Billy Friedkin could have persuaded me to take the insane chances I did. But when it was over and I looked at the rough footage, I knew it was worth it.

The New York Times (“Roy Scheider, Sorcerer Star, Talks of Thrillers”), 1977.

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I remember talking to my friend Joel last year about Yojimbo, which lead us to a discussion on remakes—specifically, the order in which they’re viewed. He’d seen A Fistful of Dollars first & ended up preferring it overall, whereas I watched Yojimbo first, & thought that superior. What if they’d been switched? Could that actually have influenced preference entirely?

It’s an interesting question. 

Wondered the same thing after Infernal Affairs, whose plot nearly lost all tension ‘cause I’d already seen The Departed. Did Scorsese do it “better”? I enjoyed his version more, but a lot of that’s to do with the unpredictability factor. Tarkovsky’s Solaris > Soderbergh’s. Frankenheimer’s Manchurian Candidate > Demme’s. But again, all my winning votes are the ones I saw first. 

Breaking the trend here with Sorcerer. Finished the original it’s based on—The Wages of Fear—yesterday, and decidedly prefer this in comparison. Also went from knowing absolutely nothing about either movie to spending the last day & a half reading articles & interviews with the directors about their processes & how the movies were received upon release. Fascinating stuff. Unfortunate timing in ‘77 for Friedkin (you get one guess as to why), ideal timing in ‘53 for Clouzot. Won’t belabor the point ‘cause I suspect I’m in the minority, so I’ll just mention a few observations.

• Sorcerer is tense as hell. Involuntarily held my breath on the bridge crossing scene. Literally couldn’t move. In addition to the great Scheider excerpt I pasted above, he said what he did in Sorcerer “makes Jaws look like a picnic.” Quote: “The most dangerous scene I’ve ever shot was the one where we were driving across a rope suspension bridge in a horrible storm and we kept swaying back and forth, back and forth. What the audience will see on that screen is what really happened.” Insane! This ranks up there with the most visceral cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. 

• Scheider’s perfectly cast. Wasn’t familiar with anyone else, but they were distinct & nuanced enough to induce anxiety at their peril. No one appeared to be acting. It’s all raw, reactionary mayhem. 

• Friedkin’s direction & tangible cinematography made me feel like I was there in the wild jungle with these guys vs the detached observer mode I felt during Wages of Fear. Sorcerer’s got a gritty, out of control, deadly Russian roulette game vibe all the way through. And I think the characters’ earnest intensity towards survival translates stronger here, too. 

• Great soundtrack. Wise choice to introduce each guy by showing them separated at first in different countries. To quote Friedkin: “We had no intention of copying those characters from The Wages of Fear, but we came up with these guys who are outside the law to one degree or another. We decided to make them be very flawed men, which is, of course, how they would wind up in a purgatory like that to begin with. The most interesting part of a journey is how the traveller came to the starting point in the first place. How the hell did they get there, and where were they going?”

• Epic explosions. 10/10. 

• Title still bugs me/makes no narrative sense. The original name was No Man’s Land, which I think is leagues better. Seriously wonder if that had something to do with the lack of mass appeal, especially against Star Wars (ie, both films sounding sci-fi and/or magical, which in this case is unnecessarily misleading). 

In sum: Sorcerer’s a great ride. Wish I’d been able to see it on the big screen. Would’ve been unforgettable, I’m sure.

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