One Dr. Mark Kermode of the Church of Wittertainment recently put us onto a forgotten classic – William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977). Although great things were expected of it at the time, it had a disastrous international run at the box office and was a colossal failure. 40 years later, it’s been remastered and had another run in cinemas and just got a Blu Ray release as well. What have we all been missing out on?
Starring Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, and Amidou (all of whom are no longer with us, sadly) alongside an unusual Tangerine Dream soundtrack, it’s one hell of an intense experience. It’s a very ’70s film in its cinematography and acting style, but it’s also gritty and realistic – it’s almost as if you’re there with four outcasts as they attempt to carefully transport a cargo of dynamite leaking nitroglycerin. Scary stuff.
For the first time, we watched it last weekend and enjoyed it a great deal. It’s set into three stages, the first explaining how four outcasts have ended up together in an extremely remote village in South America. Their previous lives are long gone and they’re now living in total poverty scraping by with a miserable existence as manual labourers at an oil plant.
After an oil well explosion on another plant 200 miles away, the American company in charge orders dynamite be used to blow up a section of the plant to end the fire. However, it then transpires the only available dynamite has been poorly maintained at the camp with the four misfits – it is leaking nitroglycerin and the slightest judder could set the lot off.
The only way to get it to blazing inferno is to transport it, extremely carefully, across 200 miles of terrain. This being an insanely dangerous mission, the company offers a hefty reward. The misfits step forward and what then occurs is a harrowing, tense, and volatile journey across the jungle in trucks, with the dynamite liable to explode at any second.
It’s a great film – the ’70s style of editing can be jarring at times, as can the ’70s style of acting, especially for modern viewers. The central story is, however, totally riveting – there’s one 11 minute scene on a bridge (you can watch this above – beware of spoilers if you want to see this film at some point properly) which is quite remarkable. How the hell Friedkin managed to film that 40 years ago we’ll never know – these days it would require a lot of CGI.
Anyway, if you’re looking for a terrifying romp through the jungle with a load of dodgy dynamite in the back, this film is certainly for you. For 40 years it’s been a forgotten marvel, an obscure entity which we’ve not seen or heard mentioned once in all the years we’ve been watching films. If you’re keen, give it a whirl.
Box Office Bomb
Why did the film tank so spectacularly? After researching the film further, due to scenes such as the one on the bridge, two production companies got involved to oversee the project and thump more money into it – the budget ballooned to around $23 million (about $95 million in 2017). As a result, the studio got concerned about the nature of the project.
When completed and ready to run in cinemas, at the same time as something called Star Wars, it was supposed to be the big hit of ’77. Friedkin had two hits behind him already in the Exorcist and the French Connection – guaranteed success! Yet the film only earned around $14 million worldwide ($58 million by modern standards), making for a significant loss. Simply put, the success of George Lucas’ film and the failure of Friedkin’s marked the start of a new era in film-making.
Some film critics even believe it triggered off the end of films led by directors in favour of studio-led projects, which you could argue has created some stagnation in modern creative film-making (Hollywood just suffered one of its worst years in living memory thanks to a series of enormously uninspired, and critically panned, films such as the Emoji Movie and the Mummy).
There are still a lot of fantastic films being created within Hollywood, just see Dunkirk, but after the recent abuse scandals and a summer of insipid films, the industry needs a massive rethink to come back in style. It’s telling, then, 40 years after its dismal failure Sorcerer arrived back in select cinemas across the world and was greeted with critical acclaim – Hollywood has the budget and the talent to still be making films like this. Now is the time.
It’s also ironic there’s another Star Wars available to see in cinemas from today. By all means go and watch it, we sure will, but perhaps collect the Sorcerer Blu Ray whilst you’re at it. There’s a good film buff.
There are two ways of taking in culture – you can either sit back and let the mass media feed you with whatever happens to be the latest big deal, whether it’s forgettable trash or not, or you can put some effort in, do a bit of research, and test a few obscure bits and bobs to find something new to love.
A mixture of the two approaches is fine, but we know far too many people who plump for the former and dribble through life experiencing media texts based on whichever marketing department has the biggest budget. The problem is, finding classic stuff can be difficult. Where do you start? JUST WHERE DO YOU START!?
For films, one terrific resource is Dr. Mark Kermode’s film review show on BBC Radio Live 5, who put us onto the likes of Notes on Blindness and now Sorcerer (amongst many others). You can get this show as a podcast or listen in on every Friday. It’s fantastic fun and has developed a real community over the last decade, but Kermode really knows his stuff and will put you onto many hidden gems out there. Give it a whirl – search for the podcast now: Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review.