Alexandre O’ Philippe’s Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist, is more akin to a 100-minute masterclass lecture. But oh my, what a lecture it is. Unmissable.
A lyrical and spiritual cinematic essay on The Exorcist, Leap of Faith explores the uncharted depths of William Friedkin’s mind’s eye, the nuances of his filmmaking process, and the mysteries of faith and fate that have shaped his life and filmography as told by the man himself.
By now almost every horror aficionado has delved into the behind the scenes documentaries regarding The Exorcist, with Mark Kermode’s effort being one of the highlights. Yet when we come to Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on the Exorcist, we somehow manage to go into uncharted territories regarding his thoughts and influences.
A word of warning, however, this is not a documentary that delves into the overall character performances of Linda Blair, the special effects and anything that Friedkin did not have a hand on. For that information head to Mark Kermode’s doc that is on BBC iPlayer right now. For those who want to stick around and watch a marvelous discussion/lecture. This is a film about why artistic decisions were made. We know he used the handgun on the set to get responses from the actors, but before we never truly knew why he did. Here he explains it. He explains the discussions he had with Max Von Sydow regarding how he projected his lines.
For art graduates like myself, there is a lot for us to discover here. When Friedkin begins to discuss the connections of art and music on himself as a filmmaker and on The Exorcist itself. Of course, we know about the Rene Magritte painting that becomes THE image from the film. But, we learn about how some of Caravaggio’s Baroque and Renaissance paintings use of light influenced his decisions.
We see how he utilised the source light approach of painting and transferred that into his films. Friedkin goes on to state how much cinematographers throughout history have been influenced by the master artists of a time gone by. They, after all, were the first cinematographers, having to light their frame accordingly, long before a camera even existed. If you have the time to, I would recommend to look at the lighting of some films, any film and see if you can connect it to a painting or artist. You may find far more than you would first think.
Tales of how certain music and visits to locations move him are emotional. His retelling gets to you as the audience member, you feel and understand what he is saying due to Philippe editing in shots of the Zen Garden etc. This brings a greater depth, not only to our wonderful subject but to the overall piece.
Director Alexandre O. Philippe and Friedkin want to talk about influences that Friedkin had as a filmmaker, none more so than Carl Theodor Dreyer’s wonderful Ordey. Venturing back to that film and the choices from the director, such as the utter lack of close-ups, how it is almost a play with the camera set far enough back that we as the audience think of what we see in the facial actions of the characters. So when he uses close-ups, the shot has to mean something, we have to see what the character is thinking or feeling. This is simple direction points he is making as if he is giving a masterclass to everyone.
This moves on to the reason why he utilises so few takes in comparison to his contemporaries. The spontaneity of his direction is explained here. We learn that because he wants that on the stop continuous style shot. If you remember in The Exorcist and in a lot of his movies the camera roams, around people. People block the shot for a second as the character we should be following walks to their spot. It is strange how it is only after the fact that you notice these moments and how different it would feel if it is cut so we then got a new shot. These small details are what make Leap of Faith shine.
Of course, Friedkin eventually gets to the ending and how he doesn’t think it works. You can see both sides to the story, but as we are solely talking to him. He gets to dominate the proceedings with his pitch to use. It mostly works as well, but there is the feeling that he has gotten himself bogged down on it too much and relents when he notes that the audience lapped it up, so it must be okay.
That is possibly one thing missing from the piece, that other voice that can counter Friedkin, but we have had enough of those documentaries to last a lifetime. We even have Friedkin and Batty discuss the script in Mark Kermode’s 25-year documentary. Whether that details the ending, I am unsure, but as mentioned, it is certainly a piece that should be searched for after viewing this.
With Philippe, he allows his subject to talk with almost barely an interruption. To find the point he was first made when he detours into a tale or a tangent. It is a very free environment. Although it is just a one-person talking head piece inter-spliced with footage and imagery from other sources. It works tremendously well. This decision to focus solely on Friedkin is newer territory for Phillippe as we are more used to him having multiple talking heads in his other works.
Leap of Faith may cause you to have to revisit it on multiple occasions as it is so dense with information within. The tales and anecdotes used to get to his point stick with you. But to fully grasp it all a second or third watch overtime may be needed. I can only imagine the siliques that were not in the final piece as Philippe spend almost a week in a discussion (albeit a one-sided one) with his subject.
This is a must-watch, not only for fans of Friedkin and The Exorcist. But for fans of cinema, fans of arts. You learn so much about the techniques of direction in Leap of Faith. It truly is a wonderful documentary, bravo.
Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist is on Shudder now.
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