Linda Blair in The Exorcist

NZIFF 2020 – Leap Of Faith: William Friedkin On The Exorcist REVIEW

July 29, 2020
2 mins read
NZIFF 2020 – Leap Of Faith: William Friedkin On The Exorcist REVIEW


NZIFF 2020 – Leap Of Faith: William Friedkin On The Exorcist REVIEW

Director – Alexandre O. Philippe


GARY STEEL watches William Friedkin talk about his film The Exorcist for 105 minutes and realises he’ll never get that time back.

Linda Blair on the set of The Exorcist

To many – like myself – who were at an impressionable age in 1973 when The Exorcist hit the big screen, the film made an indelible mark on the psyche. Jaws two years later may have been scarier, but at the tender age of 14 I’d never seen the demonic possession of a little girl before. (Or since, come to that).

Nearly 50 years later, here’s a film that provides an in-depth examination of The Exorcist straight from the horse’s mouth, its director William Friedkin.

Seemingly, no stone is left unturned as Friedkin goes on (and on, and on) about every perceivable aspect of the production.

William Friedkin

Leap Of Faith will be hugely useful to film students (and fascinating to that small group of ardent fans who still consider it the best horror film of all time) but to the agnostics out there it’s a little bit long-winded and (dare I say it) dull.

Really more of a video podcast than a genuine documentary, it comprises of a long-form interview with Friedkin that provides the final (only) word on the movie. There’s much to interest film fans and especially admirers of the horror genre, and Friedkin frequently has fascinating nuggets of information to dish out amongst the many explanations of his personal philosophy and approach to filmmaking.

Linda Blair in The Exorcist

The problem is that Friedkin often comes across as somewhat pompous and full of himself, and over the 105-minute duration, this grates. Given the chance to expound at great length on his only great film, Friedkin seizes the opportunity with relish, but there’s a pomp in his presentation that’s offputting. Having said that, he’s clearly a thoughtful fellow and at 84 years of age maybe we can forgive him his rather overbearing presence.

We learn that he’s a kind of anti-Kubrick in that he’s a ‘first-take’ kind of chap and is intensely intuitive rather than technical in his approach. He explains that with The Exorcist he lucked onto a project where everything felt just right, although he stops short of claiming it to be the work of divine inspiration. One of the most curious stories concerns his last-minute selection of unknown actor Jason Miller to replace the well-known Stacey Keach as the self-doubting priest, Father Damian Karras.

Linda Blair in The Exorcist

Predictably, I was hoping that Friedkin would talk in detail about his choice of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells as the spooky theme tune, but he spends much longer explaining how he’d commissioned (and then rejected) a piece by a famous composer. The only time he gets visibly angry is explaining his bitter disappointment at meeting the legendary film composer Bernard Herrmann, who watched the film and proclaimed it a total dud.

Looking at The Exorcist from this distance, it’s tempting to agree that Herrmann had a point. The key exorcism scenes with a levitating, spewing, 360-degree-head-turning, talking-in-voices Linda Blair still make for entertaining viewing, and the crucifix-in-the-vagina scene seems more shocking now than it did then. But there’s a portentous vibe to the whole thing that – along with too much less-than-scintillating dialogue – makes it all seem rather slow going.

Leap Of Faith is less a documentary than a film student resource, and will only really sustain interest in the… uh… faithful.


* Leap Of Faith: William Friedkin On The Exorcist is available to stream online from July 30 to August 5.

Check out Witchdoctor’s New Zealand International Film Festival reviews:

Corpus Christi

Last And First Men


The Long Walk

Paradise Drifters

Leap Of Faith: William Friedkin On The Exorcist

Coded Bias

The Kingmaker

Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets


Kubrick By Kubrick

Sick, Sick, Sick

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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