In the almost fifty years after the release of a movie that was heralded as everything from “religious porn” to “pure cinematic terror,” “The Exorcist” has not lacked for critical analysis. Thousands of gallons of ink have been spilled printing books and articles on the subject while in the internet age everyone who has ever stepped into a theatre seems to have written something about the film. “Leap of Faith” does everyone who has ever posited an opinion on the film’s meaning one better. It goes to the source with an in-depth interview with the movie’s director William Friedkin.
Documentary filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe goes long with the director on the creative process, nailing down the definitive stories of how the 1973 horror film came to be. Much of the information was covered in the 2014 autobiography, “The Friedkin Connection,” but here the director’s way with a story and Philippe’s use of visuals makes the stories cinematic.
This isn’t a casual fan doc. Friedkin and Philippe dig deep to uncover the film’s visual influences—everything from Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1955 “Ordet” to Magritte’s “The Empire of Light” series—to how recording the score ended a long-time friendship. There is great detail on the casting, the filming of controversial scenes and why star Max von Sydow, who once played Jesus in a film, had so much trouble performing one of “The Exorcist’s” most pious and famous sequences.
Over and over Friedkin talks about following his instincts and making decisions that either seemed counterintuitive or deemed too costly by the studio. “I didn’t question my instincts,” he says, which I suppose is at least part of the reason the film is called “Leap of Faith.” There’s the obvious reason and then there’s the small leaps of faith that those working with Friedkin had to take along the way. Hearing about his battles with everyone from studio heads on down to get his vision to the screen is an interesting reminder of Hollywood when creative vison could trump corporate interference.
“Leap of Faith” isn’t a flashy film. It’s a detailed, if straightforward, making of documentary that connects the dots between the filmmaker and his faith in an interesting, if long winded way.