LEAP OF FAITH: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON ‘THE EXORCIST’
Directed & Written by Alexandre O. Philippe
Starring: William Friedkin
“The film asks for a total leap of faith on the part of the audience.”
In movies, directors usually ask that you take a leap of faith both metaphorically and literally whenever you’re watching a film. A leap of faith is generally meant to suspend your disbelief a little bit. To imagine that what you’re watching is real, to be engulfed in something outside of your usual reasoning. Horror films particularly demand this of us. In fact, take any film centering around the devil. Rosemary’s Baby, The House of the Devil, and The Last Temptation of Christ ask us to suspend our beliefs and give in. They ask us to believe that the devil could and would invade your private spaces, including your soul and body. With The Exorcist, they not only ask you to take a leap of faith both in imagination and your strong religious belief systems but have also have you believe, ‘hey, this can totally happen to you.’
William Friedkin, the director of The Exorcist, is one of those men who remain one of the most prolific filmmakers of all time. Most would go as far as to call him some not too kind things as well. We all know the stories of him being a “New Hollywood” director, using old Hollywood methods on the set of The Exorcist to get the reaction and shots that he wanted out of his crew. We know the injuries and assaults. The fascinating thing about The Exorcist is that we know these stories but crave to know more and more.
You can’t get away from the morbid curiosity of wanting to know all of the information that you possibly can about this powerful film. Leap of Faith provides you with that, but with Friedkin’s point of view. Friedkin takes you on a journey throughout the film, letting you in on the choices made throughout the course of filmmaking, some good, some bad, and some downright ugly.
First things first, let’s do brief history catchup on William Friedkin. Friedkin was one of the major players in the “New Hollywood” movements,, along with notable directors like Martin Scorcese, Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola, and many others. Friedkin’s first directorial debut was Good Times (1967), but he didn’t gain notoriety until The Boys in the Band (1970) and The French Connection (1971). The French Connection would win five Academy Award for Best Director, Picture, Actor, Screenplay, and Film Editing.
When William Blatty, the writer of The Exorcist, saw The French Connection, he knew that Friedkin would be the perfect one for the job. Studios wanted other directors like Kubrick or Arthur Penn to direct, even going as far as to hire Mark Rydell to direct. Blatty insisted on Friedkin, giving him a copy of the book that Friedkin feverishly made notes in it to capture his vision when they started filming.
With casting swinging like a pendulum, and the crew set in place, everyone was ready to make the horror movie that would not only be influential for years to come but would be analyzed and criticized by scholars, artists, filmmakers, and anyone who loves or hates this film.
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN: A MASTERCLASS
Before we get into any particulars in what Leap of Faith involves, let me make a statement and tell you that I love The Exorcist, and I like William Friedkin (I think.) It’s very hard to like him after all of the stories that we know about him, but I could also listen to him talk the subject of film all day and soak that shit up like a sponge.
He reminds me, and has the type of reputation of, directors like Stanely Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock. We count those directors as geniuses because they went above and beyond for their visions. The way these directors went executed them was another story. The way they act on the set, with explosive tempers that scare the cast and crew, abusive talk and action, and more to get the performances they want out, would and should not be tolerated at all.
Even with the hardships of that, we, the audience, see the final result and know that what they went through to land a great result that will stand the test of time in film history. William Friedkin is one of those directors that not only carried an exploitative and exploitive nature, but a type A personality that lead him to be the most hated dudes, but also creating a film that still scares the shit out of people this day and tests their faith.
Leap of Faith is a masterclass in who William Friedkin is. There’s a lot of cool things that come with this documentary, but something that I personally loved with this documentary was that you get the filmmaking and inspirational ins and out of what leap up to actually making the film. There’s so much that Friedkin says that I think anyone who wants to be apart of film needs to take into account and can learn from, especially when regarding each of the different processes of filmmaking.
When I say he talks touches upon every single process, I absolutely mean every single process. Friedkin talks about his film inspiration was, Ordet (1955) and Citizen Kane (1941). The latter was also the film that made him want to become a director. He brings you into the process of what kind of tone he wanted to create, using films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Psycho as muses. He says he wanted to create a tone and mood from a dead start, but build layer upon layer within the film that sways.
Friedkin touches upon the music too. He calls the music within The Exorcist “an experimental sound museum,” which makes sense and contributes to why this film makes your body tense when you listen closely.
Some other things that are absolutely fascinating, and still taking your through the process of filmmaking, is Fredkin talking about lighting within the movie and how he cites Carravagio as some influence in how a lot of things were focused and shot. When you hear it, it’s like, “Yeah, okay, I totally see that.” But Friedkin speaks with such passion and a little bit of know it all-ism, it’s really enlightening. You’ll find yourself watching The Exorcist and will notice some of those techniques, and you’ll say, ‘holy shit.’
By going through the filmmaking process, including the casting and techniques, it brings this entire documentary to another fucking dimension. You feel like you’re getting a personal lesson, a masterclass, from a brilliant mind. You’re not sure if you should hate or love, but you can appreciate it. Especially with the meticulous thought, he put into making this movie as awe-inspiring and impressive as it is.
Leap of Faith is an analytical, critical, philosophical, and outstanding look at the process of filmmaking, storytelling, and narrative. It gives you the inside look of a movie that we all know so well, but a little bit more from the man who created it. Intimate, heartbreaking at times, but notable and recommended for anyone who wants to be a filmmaker or studying the art of film.
Check out the trailer here: