Within the rusted, mud-splattered framework of William Friedkin’s Sorcerer is a distillation of 1970s American cinema. It has the bruised masculinity of Taxi Driver, the abiding pessimism of Chinatown and the nightmarish madness that would send Coppola deep into the jungles of the Philippines for Apocalypse Now. It’s fitting that its release would be eclipsed by the intergalactic juggernaut of Star Wars, as commercial cinema would thereafter more closely resemble Lucas’ blockbuster than Friedkin’s philosophical physicality.
The physicality of Sorcerer is deeply felt; as a bestial truck lurches precariously across a disintegrating rope bridge, we see the ropes fray and the logs strain under its weight – for all today’s fanboy’s fetishisation of Star Wars’ miniatures-and-chewing-gum special effects, this is the kind of thing that can’t be faked. Not to disparage Star Wars, but while Sorcerer may have lost the box-office battle in ’77, the latter film strikes me as the better encapsulation of its decade. Where Lucas ends his film with a cardboard-cut-out celebration, Friedkin’s resigned conclusion – as Roy Scheider is rendered a modern Pied Piper, his desperate efforts met with treachery – captures the spirit of a nation who gave so much and gained so little in the Vietnam War.