If you read William Friedkins With the 500-page autobiography “The Friedkin Connection” or the interviews he conducted with The Criterion Collection, you know that the experienced filmmaker is a racing driver of the highest order. Many of these stories are repeated in the new documentary. “Leap of Faith,” an awesome look at the 85 year old director’s classic, still chilling, career-enhancing horror, “The exorcist.”
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Most of the material is known and Friedkin’s mistakes are spun in his favor. There’s no mention of Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyns For example, notorious injuries on set. But Friedkin is such a committed storyteller, even when he touches this or that, that you can hear him touching on forever.
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Unsurprisingly, Leap of Faith’s greatest asset is the man himself. Friedkin is an excellent public speaker who is invariably smart, open, and insightful. He is a man of considerable confidence, and when we listen to him we get an always-involved glimpse into a unique cinematic spirit. After a sketch of his early life and how he was seduced by the cinema (cue pictures by “Citizen Kane”) he speaks of a film that shows “true religious feelings” using directors like Robert Bresson and Carl Theodor Dreyer as examples. Then he takes us through Dryers “Ordet” a drama of faith redeemed in a more introspective way. “It inspired me,” he says, “to shoot The Exorcist.”
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What Friedkin does best is tell stories about “The Exorcist” that are extensive. He goes through every aspect of film creation, from turning the heads in the studio to turning the prosthetic heads on set, and he is never more engaged than speaking “grace notes,” little magical moments that occurred during filming. For example:
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Jason Miller: The main actor shouldn’t be in the movie, but ended up in it anyway. “Tubular bells“: An obscure piece Mike Oldfield Music that appeared out of nowhere and is now considered to be one of the best scores ever made; Iraq: The prologue allowed Friedkin to experiment with staging in ways he couldn’t before. “The realm of light”: Rene Magrittes The famous painting popped up in Friedkin’s mind in the middle of production, inspiring the setting of Priest Lankester Merrin, shrouded in light and fog, approaching Regan’s house in the middle of the night. William O’Malley: After Friedkin failed to provoke an emotional response, he slapped O’Malley in the face to cry for the camera – a trick borrowed from old-school directors George Stevens and John Ford. Friedkin recalls a time of artistic freedom (oh, the good old days) with shocking memories.
It’s fascinating too
To hear Friedkin’s thoughts on his other films, whether it is so “The French Connection” or “The Wizard” or “Killer Joe.” The director, Alexandre Philippe, keep the wise
As his subject, the camera rolls from film to film and its editing
The team ensures that the entire conversation feels like a long, cozy chat by the fireplace.
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Friedkin gave Philippe hours of material to create this intimate piece. There are photos and interviews with cast members on set and enough Inside Hollywood content to fill a book. But there are Friedkin moments too: a visit to his wife before a breakdown; an informative analysis of how Dryer influenced the framing, Caravaggio the lighting, Stravinsky the rhythm and Resnais the subliminal images of “The Exorcist”.
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The film is revealing, but ultimately it positions Friedkin as an individual who can handle the full weight of the journey – from faith to fate – through his work and experience. While “Leap Of Faith” speaks intoxicatingly and at times self-glorifying, it still inspires deep respect for Friedkin as the bright and brilliant artist that he is. Mistakes and everything, the filmmaker is a person who will grab your attention whether he’s in front of the camera or behind the camera. [B]