‘The Exorcist’ is one of the most iconic films in film history, and quite frankly, one of the most iconic pieces of art in general. Most people have no doubt come across one of the films images whether they know it or not, be it Regan possessed by the Demon, or Father Merrin first arriving to the house in a shadow of light. ‘The Exorcist’ not only spawned a whole subgenre of possession films, but also for better or worse, set the stage for what was to come a couple years later, when ‘Jaws’ ushered in the summer blockbuster. A documentary film about the creation and process of the film conducted solely with its maker, director William Friedkin, is a godsend.
‘Leap of Faith’ is kind of like being invited over to Friedkin’s house, as if you were his long time friend, he sits you down by the fire with a nice warm cup of tea and gives you his personal recollections of the making of ‘The Exorcist’. There are various images from ‘The Exorcist’ and other films littered throughout, but much of the footage comprises of Friedkin perched in his chair, breaking it all down for you, as he is the only person interviewed and seen on camera. He reveals some fascinating anecdotes about things that went on behind the scenes, takes you on a bit of a journey through his own personal history, dives into film history itself, and also provides some spiritual and philosophical musings on life. The bottom line being, this is a master class on how to make a film and a wonderful capper for Friedkin in his nearly sixty year career in the industry.
Okay, I realize I’ve been gushing non-stop about this documentary so far, but here is where the bad news comes in. A little over an hour into this one hour and fourty-four minute documentary, boredom starts to set in. Ya wanna kindly say to Will, “hey man I gotta get going, I’ve got a few errands to run,” but being that Willy is your elder, you kindly shut your trap and do your best to soak in the information he is providing. This boredom may not necessarily have to do with Friedkin though, it could have to do with its maker of this documentary, Alexander O. Philippe, and how he is handling this material, as this is the first time he has tackled such a subject in such a straight forward and minimal way. But the simple fact that Alexander could pull off such a feat as getting William Friedkin to commit to this documentary project in the first place, is a true gift in itself, so any missteps are graciously forgiven.
I also kind of wish that the subject of Linda Blair’s spine being fractured during a scene in ‘The Exorcist’ would have been addressed by Friedkin himself, as she has been quite vocal about this over the years, as she was only thirteen years old during filming when she was playing Regan, and has no doubt had to go through some uncomfortable times since this on set injury. During a portion of the bedroom scenes, young Linda had a metal contraption strapped to her back that was flinging her up and down on the bed, and nobody on the crew realized she was being hurt as they thought she was just acting, the footage is supposedly in the film. But Friedkin and Philippe do seem to allude to this matter in a way, when they discuss where Friedkin got some of his unorthodox directing methods from. And the subject was already tackled a bit in the Shudder series ‘Cursed’—which is also where ‘Leap of Faith’ is exclusively streaming as a Shudder Original—which has an episode dedicated to the supposedly cursed production of ‘The Exorcist’.
Alexander O. Philippe has really become the premier film essayist documentarian of our time, with movies like ‘78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene’ dedicated solely to Marian Crane getting stabbed in the shower, ‘Memory: the Origins of Alien’ about Ridley Scott’s first entry in the franchise, and the hilarious ‘The People vs. George Lucas’ which is about Lucas’s return to the Star Wars universe with the Anakin origin trilogy and the people that felt that this new trilogy was a sacrilegious insult; there really isn’t anyone else working at this level. Yes, there are indeed some fabulous behind the scenes / interview documentarians like the production company Red Shirt Pictures, or people like David Gregory, Callum Waddell, Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton, but none of them have been able to consistently reach the heights that Philippe has been able to.
In this digital streaming age, the special features that accompany blu ray’s and dvd’s are an overlooked thing. They not only compliment the film, but can provide a wealth of knowledge, history, and context about the film. While Alexander O. Philippe’s movies could be considered in the vein of these ever so lovely bonus features, he has been able to transcend that moniker and make films that are received and viewed as feature films themselves, which I’m sure is no easy task.
Morgan Creek Productions announced this past summer that they will be re-booting ‘The Exorcist’ in 2021, and currently on IMdB, Friedkin is attached as director, so maybe his most recent film ‘The Devil and Father Amorth’ from 2017, a documentary as well, where Friedkin revisits the themes of possession and real life exorcists for the first time since his smash hit 1973 film, may not have been his last exorcism just quite yet.