Thursday, September 12, 2013

To Live And Die In L.A. (1985)

WHO: William Friedkin directed and co-wrote this film.

WHAT: Most people I know cite The Exorcist and/or The French Connection as their favorite Friedkin films, but I prefer a couple of films he made slightly later in his career, including this 1985 thriller featuring terrific performances from William Peterson, John Pankow and Willem Dafoe, and one of the impactful finishes to a Hollywood film of its era, if not ever. And an incredible chase sequence. As Michael Crowley wrote on the film,
It may seem at first that Friedkin is merely trying to outdo the chase sequence in The French Connection. But the car chase in To Live and Die in L.A. is utterly unique and superior in many respects to its predecessor.
The sequence that opens with the arrival of "Thomas Ling" at Union station and transforms gradually into the chase is the bedrock of the film. Everything that comes before leads towards it, and all that follows is the inevitable consequence. Many of the film's ambitions are realized in this sequence—its themes are crystallized and conveyed visually, intellectually and emotionally. The geographic and narrative incoherence that may confuse or annoy viewers the first time they see it, over time, become its defining feature.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive at 7:00 PM.

WHY: With the publication of yesterday's SF Chronicle article on the PFA's 6-film Friedkin series, tickets are starting to go fast, especially for the in-person appearances on Thursday, Sep. 19 & 21. I purchased my ticket to the screening of Sorcerer yesterday, but who knows how much longer they'll be available? Friedkin is well-known as an entertaining raconteur with an edge, and pent-up demand to see that particular film on the big screen is pretty large, as it's never been available on DVD and has screened in cinemas very infrequently since it's original, poorly-recieved release (though there was a special San Jose screening I was unable to attend this past Spring).

To Live And Die In L.A. was a hit on first release, however, and has actually already screened in San Francisco twice in the past year. The San Francisco International Film Festival screened it digitally earlier this year and Elliot Lavine included a 35mm print of it in his third annual Not Necessarily Noir series last October. (No sign of a fourth edition of this series on the latest Roxie calendar, I'm sad to note.) But I find it's always good to view great films in context with other films by the same director, so seeing my favorite Friedkin films Sorcerer and To Live and Die In L.A. in such close succession, possibly along with other films he made (I'm thinking of checking out the one title in the series I've never seen before, The Boys In The Band, this coming Sunday), should make their resonance build upon each other.

Interestingly, Friedkin's opinion on another famous car chase movie was part of yesterday's Chronicle article: 
"Bullitt is the best cop film I've ever seen," Friedkin said. "I probably watch it five times a year. But not the chase. I like it, but I don't think it's great. What they did was clear the streets and send the cars over the hills. No people in danger."
Bullitt will screen next Friday at the Paramount in Oakland, kicking off a three-film fall season. It's a great opportunity for East Bay audiences to see multiple contenders for "greatest chase scene of all time" on the big screen in a short period of time. If only Friedkin's San Francisco-set Jade, which has what the director has called "the best chase scene I’ve ever shot" was part of the PFA series.

HOW: To Live And Die In L.A. screens via a 35mm print.

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