Written and directed by Alexandre O. Philippe
Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist Review
Fans of The Exorcist should check out the new documentary Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist, which offers plenty of unique insight into the crazy production of everyone’s favorite demon-possesses-a-child gore fest straight from the mouth of the film’s Oscar-winning director. That is, unless you’ve already tuned in for Friedkin’s previous commentary recorded for the 25th Anniversary Special Edition DVD way back in the late 90s or watched the hundreds of documentaries, featurettes and fan videos that have floated around the internet over the last few decades.
Honestly, there’s not much more to say about The Exorcist; and yet, in Leap of Faith, Friedkin spends a good 90-minutes gleefully regurgitating oft-told stories about the contentious production, namely his intense dealings with composer Bernard Herman over the film’s score — “I think I can save this piece of shit!” — criticisms over the much maligned opening sequence in Iraq and some of the film’s more controversial moments involving child actress Linda Blair.
Chances are, you’ve heard all of this before; and while Friedkin’s energy is infectious — it’s clear he still carries a fondness for his picture even after nearly 50 years and 38 additional directing credits, including the classic cop drama The French Connection — particularly for a man who just turned 85, his conversational style at times feels more pompous than informative.
It doesn’t help that he sidesteps topics such as his abusive directing style that left stars Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair with injuries they deal with even to this day; and blames any and all contentious interactions with individuals such as composer Lalo Schifrin, whose sprawling score was rejected on the spot in favor of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, on creative differences rather than his own abrasive personality.
At times, Friedkin is a little too revealing about his directing process to the point of unintentional hilarity. Take, for example, the scene in The Exorcist when a clock behind Father Merrin suddenly stops working. What does it mean? Is it foreshadowing? Is it symbolic? No, says, Friedkin, it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
“I don’t think there’s any conscious meaning behind my choices, but really I was just following my instinct,” the man explains. That’s great! But think of all the people who spent the last 45+ years debating the meaning behind that goddamned clock!
William Friedkin: accidental genius or brilliant man of intuition? You be the judge.
Though, it is telling that, in some weird way, Friedkin seems to believe The Exorcist’s production incurred divine intervention due to the importance of its story, which is clearly the only way to explain how and why everything came together at the right time to form a perfect blockbuster — one that continues to resonate in the public psyche despite its numerous sequels, remakes and rip-offs.
Is there such a thing as too much information ruining a classic film? Debatable. Regardless, someone should probably pull Friedkin aside and explain that a good magician never reveals his secrets.