William Friedkin and Stephen King apparently had sincere mutual respect for each other. Friedkin thought King’s IT was great (and “boggles” is too weak a word, “quakes” more accurately describes the mind comprehending a Friedkin adaptation of that one) and King not only thought Friedkin’s adaptation of The Exorcist was top-notch, he absolutely loved Sorcerer. In Danse Macabre, his 1981 survey of horror media from the 19th Century on, King only spares a quick moment for Sorcerer (which is not really a horror movie) but describes how he has already seen it three times and is going to try to get a fourth screening in.
Danse Macabre was not the first time I had heard of The Exorcist; it may have been the first time I heard of Friedkin. But it was definitely the first time I had ever heard of Sorcerer, which was released in 1978, famously going up against Star Wars and bombing and largely falling out of the culture.(The time discrepancy between King’s rave/viewing schedule and Danse Macabre’s publication date here is likely due to King assembling Danse Macabre out of various lectures and college courses he taught in the late 70s.) And I would bet it is how many other young people first heard of the movie; if YA master Stephen King is recommending this, it must be good! Friedkin, Sorcerer — this is something to remember.
King has always been a huge booster of whatever pop culture he is enjoying at the time, beyond happily blurbing others’ new work he uses older materials for epigraphs and has his characters make note of books and movies and music in his own stories. He was a massive influence on younger me pop culturally, but nothing had a greater influence on how I thought and spoke than The Simpsons, of course. That show was also full of cultural references and if many were disparaging, they also put in a nod to the greatness of Sorcerer. If you know the film, the scene of Homer as Mr. Plow crossing a rickety rope bridge is a clear homage, but by the early 90s not many people would have known the film. I sure didn’t, although I could tell something was up by the strangely purposeful music and camera angles. Even many of the nerds at snpp.com, that early online clearinghouse for all things Simpsons, didn’t pick it up, but a few did and I read their annotations of the reference — once again, it was Friedkin, Sorcerer. This is something to remember.
I think it was probably the late aughts by the time I finally watched Sorcerer (I have it on VHS and that period was my biggest time for scoring discount tapes) and confirming that yes, it totally fucking owns. I’d say it took a little more than a decade between first learning about the movie until finally watching it, which is a long time. My brain holds onto information about semi-obscure movies, many other brains do not.
And I also had access, via the media-rich area I lived in, to finally get a copy (and eventually see it in a restored release at the arthouse theater), which many people do not. Or did not. The early- and pre-internet (at least, pre-mainstream internet) days in which I was getting these hints of Sorcerer had plenty of barriers to learning about interesting and obscure art, let alone getting a copy of it. Today it’s easy to learn or be reminded of that art, but there’s still no guarantee you can get it easily, as people prodded by Friedkin obits are learning as they discover To Live And Die In LA is not streaming. And as many things become available, specific things become harder to find, or discover the existence of. You can’t know what to look for unless you know what’s there in the first place.
The knowledge of Sorcerer was given to me by other artists I liked and trusted making connections, telling me there was something to remember. After Friedkin died Monday, Mike Reiss wrote that Simpsons writers learned Friedkin was a fan of the show and put that reference in the episode “just for him.” A few years ago, King heaped even more praise on Sorcerer, saying it was his favorite movie. Writer Nick de Semlyen asked Friedkin about King’s ranking and after sharing his high opinion of IT, Friedkin had kind words for King as well: “Stephen King is a guy who really tries to keep in touch with the culture and the zeitgeist. For him to say that about Sorcerer is a tremendous compliment from a guy who tills the same soil.”
I really like that line about tilling the same soil, people on the same turf recognizing each other as they do their work. And maybe planting seeds of that recognition as they go. It may take a while, but those seeds can take root and grow in a person’s head, so they reap a benefit that may have not come otherwise.
What seeds took longest to grow for you, and how were they planted? What art did you hear about long ago and then finally get to experience?