Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist
by George Wolf
Most of the time, limiting a documentary to only one point of view is not a winning strategy. You want balance, with a scope wide enough to deliver more than just an agenda-laden screed.
Leap of Faith doesn’t worry about all that. If your aim is to take a deep dive into the filming of The Exorcist, and director William Friedkin agrees to a lengthy interview, well, that’s that.
Sure, you could probably find someone to argue Friedkin didn’t craft one of the greatest horror films in history, but do we really need to give idiots any more screen time this year?
In just the last three years, director Alexandre O. Phillippe has deconstructed horror classics Alien (Memory: The Origins of Alien) and Psycho (78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene) to fascinating effect. Leap of Faith makes it a trifecta of terror, thanks to a film icon who also proves himself an endlessly engaging storyteller in front of the camera.
If it’s true every interview needs at least one good story to be worth the time, Phillippe’s visit with Friedkin is a pound for pound champ. The stories here – from Jason Miller taking the Father Karras role away from Stacy Keach to Friedkin’s battle with legendary composer Bernard Herrman over the score – keep you hanging on every word.
Strangely, though, the conversation never does get around to Linda Blair at all – not her casting, her performance, or the complexities of directing a teenage actress in such extreme subject matter. Even with all the compelling content here, it’s a noticeable omission.
But more than an indispensable guide through the making of a classic, Leap of Faith shines a wonderfully illuminating light on Friedkin’s creative process. Yes, Billy clearly likes him some Billy, but at 85 years old now, it’s hard to blame him.
Whether or not Phillippe knew what he was getting when first he sat down with Friedkin, the game plan no doubt materialized pretty quickly. Keep him talking, trim the fat, and then splice in the appropriate clips at the perfect time.
Leap of Faith might be a one man show, but when the show is The Exorcist and the man is William Friedkin, it feels like enough.