September 2, 2021

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 HOW THE FRENCH CONNECTION REINVENTED (AND EXPLODED) THE POLICE PROCEDURAL: William Friedkin's 1971 masterpiece is all about the chase. That's what distinguishes it from everything that came before and after (CHRIS MCGINLEY, 9/02/21, CrimeReads)

Much has been written about the style and mood of William Friedkin's The French Connection (1971).  Commentators are fond of identifying influences ranging from Costa-Gavras' Z and the Maysles brothers work, to the more recently noted Kartemquin documentaries of the 1960s. There's been a great deal of talk about long takes, overlapping dialogue and the film's "gritty" verite style generally. What's so interesting to me, however, is how the elements of cinematography and sound establish the important formal elements of the police procedural in The French Connection. The scenes unfold in a manner so completely artful and seamless that we forget we're watching a Hollywood cop film. Indeed, what's unorthodox (and liberating) about the film is not that it deviates significantly from the procedural formula, but that the elements of formula are artfully hidden in its style.

The opening Marseilles scene, and the shakedown at the Oasis bar that follows, establish some narrative basics common to the procedural. So far, we know we're in the gritty world of undercover narcs who will most likely encounter something outside of their usual experience, something international, something "big." None of this is especially imaginative or atypical. But the foot chase that follows the shakedown introduces a few elements unique to the narrative. First, it initiates a trope that works in tandem with the visual style of the film, pursuit. Yes, most cop films involve pursuit of some sort, but pursuit in The French Connection represents something larger. In fact, for Popeye and Cloudy chase is the heart of investigatory work. They walk, run, drive, stake-out, ride subways, and generally tail their quarry. Such scenes occupy the bulk of the screen time. There's precious little gun-play and virtually no tough guy talk in The French Connection. No suspect is ever braced or interviewed formally. And when there is some dialogue between cop and con, like at the close of the foot chase scene, the film seems to make a point about its uselessness. (The "pick your feet in Poughkeepsie" comment is to this day still an enigmatic remark, and the cops get nothing important from the pusher they arrest.) But we are introduced to their singular metier: chase.

Also one of the films that shows you what our standard of living was back when things were "better."



Posted by at September 2, 2021 12:00 AM

  

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