Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sorcerer - The Bridge

Following the critical acclaim and award winning success of The French Connection and The Exorcist, William Friedkin's career hit a serious snag with the release of his 1977 film, Sorcerer. It lost money, was almost universally hated or ignored and was marred with conflict and and bad fortune from the outset. Its 21 million dollar budget was considered to be excessive at the time. It only managed to recoup 9 million, making it a major financial disaster.

Funny enough, many (including Friedkin himself) consider it to be his best work.

Sorcerer is a remake of the 1953 French film The Wages of Fear. It starred the late Roy Scheider and a solid, competent cast of international actors. It is very light on dialog, a factor which likely alienated a great deal of American viewers but actually enhanced the story and dramatic tension. The characters are not very nice people, the world they live in is harsh, bleak and unforgiving and the situation they find themselves in adds up to a relentlessly intense and starkly beautiful movie experience.

Steve McQueen was originally cast in the role eventually played by Scheider, but this was derailed when Friedkin would not concede to McQueen's condition that his wife, Ali McGraw was to be included as an associate producer. Friedkin later regretted this as it could be said that McQueen would have made the film a box office success and perhaps today it would be regarded as a classic as opposed to an obscure cult film. (Thirty plus years on, it looks fine the way it is and could easily be regarded as a classic in this writer's vernacular.)

The production was also plagued with defections, delays, hazardous conditions, a hurricane, and Friedkins frequent clashes with cast, crew and producers. To top it all off, it was released the same month as Star Wars.

I was pleased to find a few clips from the film on YouTube.

The Bridge scene involves two trucks, carrying nitro-glycerin, trying to make it across a very rickety bridge during a rather heavy storm. These scenes are minorly spoilery, so if you'd rather wait grab the movie on Netflix, skip them.

The Bridge 1 of 2:


Despite its look, the rope bridge was actually quite elaborate in its construction and contained numerous safety devices as well as hydraulic lifts in order for the special effects crew to manipulate it into motion. It cost one million dollars to build. After it was completed, the original river for the scene (in the Dominican Republic) went almost completely dry for the first time in its history due to a drought. The bridge had to be torn down and a new location in Tuxtepec Mexico was found. The bridge had to be rebuilt at the cost of another one million dollars. However once again at the new location the raging river started to dry. The crew had to put a 24 hour guard around the bridge because the superstitious locals threatened to blow it up believing it was the bridge/intruders that caused the river to become shallow. By the time filming began the water was only 18 inches deep and looked completely nonthreatening. The crew didn't have the time or the money to find yet another location so Friedkin decided to add an artificial current and rainstorm (using helicopters/wind machines and men on towers with giant hoses.) The bridge itself was so rickety that despite the safety precautions the truck (often with an actor inside of it) slid off the side and into the shallow water five times during rehearsals and filming. The entire sequence took three months to shoot. Friedkin stated it was by far the most difficult sequence he ever filmed in his career.

The Bridge 2 of 2:

Interview with William Friedkin

On Wages of Fear and Sorcerer

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