Nat Segaloff’s The Exorcist Legacy Explores the Magic of William Friedkin’s Iconic Movie


Ours is an ideological second, so it’s not shocking that the fiftieth anniversary of The Exorcist has occasioned a turf battle between conventional and progressive Catholics. Right here’s Matthew Walther, whose perspective I normally worth for each its incisiveness and pugnaciousness, waxing nostalgic in regards to the film’s true Catholicism. After which now we have Paul Baumann at Commonweal predictably referring to it as “Nineteen Seventies schlock” portraying a benighted non secular imaginative and prescient that belongs within the Bronze Age.

Each articles, nonetheless, miss the magic of the movie.

Within the movie’s most infamous scene, 12-year-old Regan MacNeil, performed by Linda Blair, mutilates herself with a crucifix, bellowing obscenities in a international voice. Blair’s stunt double, 29-year-old Eileen Dietz, carried out in among the extra lurid pictures. When the movie was launched to worldwide acclaim, a full-on publicity nightmare erupted, with Dietz claiming she wasn’t getting ample credit score for her position. Naturally, gossip columnists and reporters had been wanting to know the mechanics behind this specific scene. The movie’s director, William Friedkin, himself an incorrigible showman and raconteur, developed what got here to be generally known as the “Felt Discussion board Speech.”

On this speech, he recounts a present he attended by an illusionist, “the Nice Rinaldo,” wherein a lady was sawed in half. The spectacle was replete with gushing blood and the scent of formaldehyde. After all, no stunning younger assistant really perished within the efficiency, however the illusionist ended by posing one query to his viewers, “All I ask you is, ‘Did the phantasm work? Have been you satisfied?’” The response was a standing ovation. Friedkin concludes, “Now it is a great distance of claiming to you, ‘Did it work?’ Don’t ask me how or why, however did it work? That’s the one query, as a filmmaker, that I ask the viewers.”

Segaloff is in a novel place to convey all of this materials collectively for individuals who cherish the unique movie not merely as a cinematic ceremony of passage for thrillseekers, but in addition as a real murals.

Is William Friedkin’s The Exorcist an precise horror movie, or is it a “supernatural thriller,” because the novel’s creator, William Peter Blatty, insisted? Did it scare the daylights out of audiences due to its convincing portrayal of supernatural evil? Or did it unnerve them on a unconscious stage with its incisive social commentary throughout a really turbulent time in American historical past? All of those questions are intriguing, however the order is mistaken. Taking our cues from Friedkin’s Felt Discussion board Speech, we must always first ask, “Does The Exorcist work?” And after 50 years, the reply is a powerful sure.

Nat Segaloff’s The Exorcist Legacy: 50 Years of Worry units out to discover the movie’s magic, providing a veritable treasure trove of knowledge encompassing every part from the small print of the particular case on which the story is predicated to explosive behind-the-scenes dynamics. Segaloff’s ebook additionally options detailed explorations of all of the sequels, excepting the newly launched Exorcist: Believer. (No massive loss there.) For these not within the know, The Exorcist: Heretic is so dangerous it may function fodder for the oldsters at Thriller Science Theater 3000. The Exorcist III is an intriguing entry with William Peter Blatty within the director’s chair this time. And Exorcist: Dominion was directed by none apart from Paul Schrader, a undeniable fact that ought to boost a couple of eyebrows.

Having written the biography of William Friedkin in 1990, Segaloff is in a novel place to convey all of this materials collectively for individuals who cherish the unique movie not merely as a cinematic ceremony of passage for thrillseekers, but in addition as a real murals.

The critic Mark Kermode has lengthy carried a torch for The Exorcist, steadfastly sustaining all through his influential profession that it’s the best movie ever made. At a latest screening, he made the canny comment that, though the unique possession case that impressed the movie was virtually actually not the real article, it doesn’t matter. What issues is that William Peter Blatty believed it with full sincerity. You may say the unique story that appeared within the pages of the Washington Submit “labored” for him.

The query of perception in The Exorcist is a fancy one. Blatty was a religious Catholic when he wrote the ebook and his categorical function was to steer trendy readers that if the satan is actual, then God and his angels are additionally actual. William Friedkin was an agnostic Jew who noticed Blatty’s novel as a literary masterpiece and wished to make an adaptation that honored the spirit of the unique story whereas making full use of leading edge cinematic know-how.

The 2 had been typically at loggerheads on set, nonetheless, with Blatty insisting on making the theology clearer whereas Friedkin shrewdly trimmed it again to maintain the story transferring. In any case, Blatty’s key query was “Are you satisfied?,” in comparison with Friedkin’s extra pragmatic concern with whether or not or not it really works. Two monks on a staircase discussing the demonic motivations behind the possession of just a little lady can’t actually compete with a head rotating 360 levels and inexperienced projectile vomit. Ultimately, although, each sensibilities are marvelously blended, yielding a horror movie of actual non secular depth whereas Friedkin’s visible model constitutes a deft fusion of realism and surrealism.

There are scenes of medical detachment, like once we witness Regan endure a sequence of excruciating medical assessments. The actors had been inspired to talk their strains in their very own phrases. The movie thus has an simple gravitas. By no means does it really feel like a film. And this sense of sobriety enhances among the extra unique visuals. Father Karras’s dream sequence is a marvel of unnerving imagery and good sound design. Flashes of the demon’s face (Eileen Dietz once more) had been impressed by Michel Bouquet’s groundbreaking documentary, Evening and Fog, which juxtaposes present-day footage of the verdant Polish countryside with black-and-white pictures of the carnage that occurred within the loss of life camps that when stood on that exact same spot. The movie’s most celebrated shot—the exorcist arriving on the MacNeil residence—took its inspiration from René Margritte’s Empire of Mild.

Segaloff additionally components the curtain to supply minute accounts of how all of the particular results had been orchestrated and movie nerds will relish many of those particulars. (For instance, little did I do know that make-up results legend Rick Baker made his skilled entrance into movie with this film.)

Segaloff makes it clear that he doesn’t discover Blatty’s argument about supernatural evil proving God’s existence to be persuasive. Personally, I believe the argument carries some drive, however I need to admit that the movie works higher with out an excessive amount of theological baggage. As Segaloff places it, “Regardless of the pyrotechnics, noises, make-up, and CGI, and no matter what folks have come to anticipate from a film with the phrase exorcist within the title, what actually scares them is one thing they introduced with them into the theater: uncertainty.”

There’s a roominess to Friedkin’s movie that permits this uncertainty to breathe. After 50 years, we’re nonetheless asking, “What if the satan is actual in any case?” The subject material could also be darkish, however comply with it far sufficient and also you’ll discover mild not darkness.


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