Hurricane Billy was a nickname the director William Friedkin acquired in his 1970s heyday. Not just for the turbulence of his creative energy; he had an awful temper, too. Now 83, Friedkin still makes pictures, but he also spends a good deal of time flogging his memoir and hosting screenings of varied restorations from his fascinating and still-vital filmography. The gems include “The French Connection,” “The Exorcist,” “Sorcerer,” “Cruising” and “To Live and Die In L.A.”
In his in-person, self-promoting persona, Friedkin adopts an avuncular mode that’s more voluble than volatile. That is the Friedkin on display in “Friedkin Uncut,” a worshipful documentary portrait directed by Francesco Zippel.
Unselfconscious in extremely high-waisted pants, making snarky remarks about the coffee he’s sipping during his interviews, Friedkin dives into his enthusiasms and his self-regard without hesitation. Riffing on “Exorcist”-related theological questions, he announces “The Devil was a creature of God!” as if he were the first to have the idea. It’s like “Paradise Lost” never happened.
On movie stuff, he stands on stronger legs. (You should definitely hear him out when he deems Buster Keaton the greatest director of chase scenes.) Zippel assembled an impressive group of admirers and colleagues to weigh in on the director, and while there’s more than enough “man, he is great” gushing, interview subjects including Willem Dafoe, Ellen Burstyn and Quentin Tarantino contribute reminiscences and observations that go beyond superficial showbiz boosterism. The documentary also reminds viewers of why Friedkin has earned this tribute. For all his career ups and downs, he has remained devoted to making genuinely challenging and exciting work, and has succeeded more often than not. The documentary serves as a strong incitement to dig into it.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes.