Sundance 2020 Review LEAP OF FAITH: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON THE EXORCIST Answers to a Higher Authority
Imagine, if you will, you find yourself standing at the entrance to a street called Memory Lane. Now imagine that William Friedkin comes up beside you and asks you to join him for a walk down to 3600 Prospect Street. As you walk, Friedkin shares with you memories about his 1973 film The Exorcist. It could have been the way the sunlight hit that one building over there that brought up one memory. Perhaps it was the sound of a string quartet coming from an open window over here that reminded him of another memory.
From the first moments William Peter Blatty sent Friedkin his 1971 novel and subsequent attempt at an adaptation, through production and its release, Friedkin recounts the creative processes (not as many s's as possesses, possesses) and influences that shaped one of the iconic horror films of all time. In Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist Friedkin opens up about one of his greatest achievements as a director and in ways his most costly.
Over six days documentarian Alexandre O Philippe (78/52 and Memory: The Origin of Alien) had unfettered access to the director. He adopted a method used by François Truffaut for his 1966 book, Hitchcock/Truffaut. Not at all surprising considering how much Philippe loooves Hitchcock. For that book the two directors sat down in a room at Universal Studios for one week and talked about movies. Philippe must have held off at six because why try to outmaster a master.
We approached this film as an opportunity to learn more about the director and The Exorcist. We have never delved deeper into the film beyond casual viewing for the sake of having seen it. So we cannot speak on what is shared compared to what Exorcist enthusiasts may already know about the film. For us everything was by and large new. But we would believe that there is something for everyone in Leap of Faith. When you think you know all there is to know about The Exorcist along comes the highest authority there is to bestow us with more knowledge.
We thought it important to point out first of all that Leap of Faith is not a how did they do that documentary, but a why did they do that documentary.
A large portion of Leap of Faith devotes itself to Friedkin’s connections to art and music. They run deep, emotionally deep. Not only do we see how his favorite artists and pieces of music shaped The Exorcist but how they shaped his filmmaking style throughout the years.
“All these things creep into your imagination which feeds your ideas for a film”.
From lighting to blocking a scene, artists such as Cravaggio, Rembrandt and Johannes Vermeer were influential in that regard. We discover how a painting from Rene Magritte was the inspiration for one of the most iconic images, not only in horror but in all of cinema. These are the influencers and influences that created his instincts when making a film.
They are "instinctive choices that don't translate into a how".
Friedkin speaks of a ‘hands-on’ approach to getting the performance he wanted out of an actor, something he knows he, or any director from that era, would not, could not do today. Discussion turns to the hiring of Mercedez McCambridge and what she put herself through to create the voice of the Demon, the personal and physical sacrifices she made.
Then there are these moments of residual pain. They are oh so brief but Philipe captures these moments where we can see the emotional toll of some of the decisions Friedkin made during production, choices that the outcomes of still sting to this day.
The key hits and misses, of the accounts shared by Friedkin, come down to the musical score for The Exorcist. Here we learn of his encounter with one of cinema's greatest composers and how that soured quickly, to his obvious disappointment. We learn of another attempt at scoring the film that not only did not make the cut but cost Friedkin more than he bargained for.
On the flip side we found Friedkin's process of filmmaking very interesting and how such changes, whatever there outcome or fallout may have been, made The Exorcist simply better, even unimaginable in those previous manifestations. Not just The Exorcist but with other lauded films from that era. Mind blowing stuff.
Leap of Faith is a densely packed burst of information and recollection from the mind behind The Exorcist movie. There is much, much more information in this film than what I've highlighted here. It flows like a stream of consciousness, so much so that we watched it three times before deciding on what we were going to focus on here. These are the highlights that we was drawn to, out of personal connection and interest. We often find ourselves drawn to music and art for inspiration so there is a connection there for us as we watched this film.
To date Leap of Faith is Philippe`s most streamlined and direct documentary. Like Friedkin said to Blatty after the author sent him his convoluted screenplay adaptation of his own book, “I just wanted to make a straight ahead story”. This is just a straight ahead documentary. There is no need to bring in experts or enthusiasts for their opinions. The only opinion that matters here is the opinion of the films creator.
Can we get an Amen?