Remakes are funny things - one can hope that at the least they can pave their own path, taking a different tack on an established storyline. Most are just redundant, simply bland substitutes for another work. Finally, there are those (thankfully rare) remakes that seem to do the near-impossible, to be so egregious that they retroactively make the original somehow seem worse.
Some exceptional remakes do the opposite of this - they stand on their own, they reference the original without being reverential, and in sometimes quite astonishing ways they actually improve on a film that itself is already a classic. These best-of-the-best do that same retroactive magic trip, but this time for the better. These remakes, in these rare times, can be loved on their own, but also increase the love for the work that they draw inspiration from.
William Friedkin's Sorcerer
pulls off this magic trick. A beautiful homage to Wages of Fear
by Henri-Georges Clouzot (a film I've gushed about at length
), Friedkin's take is both sophisticated and enthralling, and could easily be the best of that filmmaker's output.
From the transcontinental opening scenes through to the iconic transport of explosive materials, this is an intense ride deep into the heart of psychological unease. Roy Scheider is a delight, with a gritty performance that's an equal to his work in Jaws
or The French Connection
. The rest of the ensemble is top notch as well, the cosmopolitan accents and wonderfully expressive faces making for a gritty, motley crew of desperate men.
The beautifully simple tale of Clouzot's original is fleshed out a bit through some backstory elements, but to this film's credit these additions provide genuine complexity and interest rather than feeling tacked on. Several steps ahead of the audience, the structure of the film works beautifully, and it's nice to be reminded that sometimes even Hollywood films can respect the patience and intelligence of their audience. Plus, if at all possible, Friedkin's staging of the bridge scene is even more anxiety-inducing than the original version - no small feat!
Released the same year as Star Wars
and Annie Hall
, it certainly didn't get as much credit as was due. I for one only knew it in relation to its original, interested in seeing it, but believing it to be little more than an English language version of a classic. I couldn't have been more wrong.
As discussed in our lengthy interview
, Friedkin was forced to sue the studios to take back control of the film so that it could be properly restored and presented. Screened during 2013's Venice Film Festival, the restoration is extraordinary, its image rock-solid with the proper grain structure intact. This digital "print" is traveling to various art houses and select cinemas before making its way to Blu-ray next week.
The best way to see this film is on a big screen of course, but even more so with exceptional sound. I had the pleasure of seeing it at TIFF Bell Lightbox's Cinema one, a theatre with one of the best sound setups in the world, and it was near miraculous. The Tangerine Dream soundtrack throbbed fittingly, but it was the clank of gears, the shattering sound of rain, and one of the most sublime uses of silence I've ever (not) heard in cinema that gave me goosebumps.
Easily surpassing (heightened) expectations, Sorcerer is a thing to behold. Bless Billy F. for having the chutzpah to rescue his baby, so new generations can see this forgotten classic in the way that it deserves.Sorcerer plays TIFF's Bell Lightbox on Tuesday, April 15th and Friday, April 18th as part of their TIFF Cinematheque Special Screenings series that runs from now until May 20
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