Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist documents the making of a defining moment in the horror genre. There is no delusion around the fact that this is made for fans of the original film. The artistic influences and guiding philosophies that became a part of The Exorcist’s fabric are detailed in this fascinating, in-depth interview with the film’s director.
Leap of Faith’s lack of discernible structure works in its favor. It is light on its feet, galloping from topic to topic in an efficient, only occasionally jarring way. With each chapter focusing on a different production aspect of The Exorcist, Friedkin never lingers too long in one area nor becomes excessively engrossed in the telling of any particular anecdote.
The most effective tool in maintaining the audience’s attention, however, is the grand story Leap of Faith has to tell. Friedkin details his numerous and varied sources of inspiration. The Exorcist takes shot composition ideas from the works of Caravaggio and Vermeer. Rene Magritte’s ‘Empire of Light’ inspired the set-up of Father Merrin’s arrival at MacNeil house. Highlighting these particular cases makes one appreciate the strong links that exist between artwork and cinematography. In this vein, Leap of Faith acts to make the audience even more appreciative of The Exorcist.
Further sources of inspiration for Friedkin on this famed project include Brahm’s Lullaby for the score, as well as a plethora of films, including Welles’ Citizen Kane, Kubrick’s The Killing and Dreyer’s Ordet.
Art and Friedkin’s own philosophies guided The Exorcist in equal measure. When it comes to filmmaking, Friedkin works from instinct and spontaneity rather than conscious decision making. The fact that people many times over have analyzed the minutiae of The Exorcist does not make their interpretations valid or invalid, but rather are a testament to Friedkin’s ability to set an active and nuanced tone.
One of the most striking things mentioned by Friedkin is what he refers to as, ‘grace notes’. These moments, such as Mr. Bernstein’s ferry memory in Citizen Kane, are seemingly irrelevant to the plot yet remain with the audience long after the credits have rolled. This is just one insight of many from which budding filmmakers are likely to gain from Friedkin’s experience.
Director Alexandre O. Philippe is right to limit his own voice in this documentary. There is a clear understanding that Friedkin is the main asset. This is a strategy that only works because Friedkin is such an articulate and charismatic person. He speaks of The Exorcist with a passion and playfulness that makes this venture worthwhile. With refreshing candor, he details how he told Blatty that his first draft of the screenplay was a travesty to the very book he wrote. And he admits that his unconventional strategies (such as firing a gun on set to extract particular reactions from his actors) would be unacceptable today.
Leap of Faith is effectively a talking head of Friedkin with clips and stills interspersed appropriately around his lessons. Some might say this is a lazy strategy that misses the opportunity to do some more exciting with the content. But Friedkin’s personality just about lets Philippe get away with it.
An inescapable truth, however, is the questionable extent of Leap of Faith’s validity as a stand-alone feature. Although it is certainly a worthwhile event for die-hard fans of The Exorcist, it does feel like an elaborate Blu-ray bonus feature. If you at least like The Exorcist then you will enjoy Leap of Faith. But at the end of the day, perhaps it belongs on a 50th anniversary DVD re-release of the famous film it documents.