In Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist, documentary filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe turns his obsessive interests to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973). Philippe’s most recent films have fixated on the development of Ridley Scott’s Alien and its evolution from screenwriter Dan O’Bannon’s original concept in Memory :The Origins of Alien (2019) as well as a deep dive into Hitchock’s process and Psycho‘s iconic “Shower Scene” in 78/52 (2017). As with his previous films, Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist premiered at The Sundance Film Festival but unlike those other films Leap of Faith only features one perspective: William Friedkin’s.

Philippe has an incredible ability to find new details in a space that you think you already know everything about. You’ve likely read every but od trivia online or heard secondhand stories about the production of The Exorcist. Stories about Friedkin firing guns during takes, tales of “a crazed woman” abusing herself to produce the voice of Pazuzu. If, like me, you grew up in a religious household, you might have even been told about mysterious onset injuries and spectral encounters that were surely the holy spirit attempting to derail such a vulgar display of blasphemy. It’s one thing to hear sensationalized stories from fans, but it’s another thing altogether to hear these stories from the man at the center of such a turbulent production.

 

“an informative follow-up for anyone looking for answers after discovering The Exorcist, but it’s also the perfect documentary for life-long fans that have been watching the film religiously for decades.”

 

As Friedkin sees it, “everything has to do with the mystery of fate or faith”. It’s a throughline that he draws not only through The Exorcist, but through his entire career. It goes without saying that The Exorcist is a study of the mystery and the power of faith but its success was an exercise in fate. By his own account, he was shooting from the hip, trusting his gut, and acting solely on instinct. Which I have to say, is so incredibly refreshing to hear after years of us over-analyzing our favorite films.

Friedkin wasn’t on set thinking about the significance of a clock stopping or what a red, rising sun has to say about approaching evil; He just did what felt right at the time. Heck, he doesn’t even completely understand the ending to his own movie! But he knows it works, and he knew well enough to trust that it would connect with the millions of moviegoers that lined up around the block to see it. The ending of The Exorcist is as mysterious to Friedkin as the possibility of possession. “The truth is,” he tells Philippe, “none of us know anything […] From the greatest thinkers and philosophers the world has ever known, from Saint Augustine to Stephen Hawking, we don’t know anything”.

 

 

[Sundance 2020 Review] Horror Doc LEAP OF FAITH: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON THE EXORCIST is a Not-So Vulgar Display of Powerful Filmmaking

 

And it’s a sentiment that Alexandre O. Philippe brilliantly manages to weave through the film. As as storyteller, one of Philippe’s greatest strengths also happens to be one of Friedkin’s. In discussing his approach to filmmaking, Friedkin talks about his eye for little moments in a character’s life that communicates something to the audience about the human experience. He refers to them as “grace notes” and the can be found all throughout his work, but especially in The Exorcist. Philippe juxtaposes Friedkin’s words with moments from his work, the films that inspired him, and footage of passersby that give us a glimpse into what it means to be human. The visual storytelling laid over Friendkin’s words add another layer to The Exorcist story (and lore) that give you the opportunity to see the beloved classic again as something entirely new.

Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist is an informative follow-up for anyone looking for answers after discovering The Exorcist, but it’s also the perfect documentary for life-long fans that have been watching the film religiously for decades. Even the most seasoned movie nut will find new on set stories, rejected scores, and details on behind-the-scenes decisions that led to some of the most iconic moments in cinema. Philippe manages to take what would normally be considered a fandom film and turn it into a high-class rumination on the questions that have been plaguing us for thousands of years. Questions that terrify us because they may never have an answer but questions we can ask together when we connect, in some strange twist of fate, over a really scary movie.

 

“an informative follow-up for anyone looking for answers after discovering The Exorcist, but it’s also the perfect documentary for life-long fans that have been watching the film religiously for decades.”

 

Alexandre O. Philippe’s Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist celebrated its World Premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Share with us your favourite memory of The Exorcist, and let us know what is your excited to see Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist over on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club.

 

[Sundance 2020 Review] Horror Doc LEAP OF FAITH: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON THE EXORCIST is a Not-So Vulgar Display of Powerful Filmmaking