Director William Friedkin's earliest memory of going to the cinema is of being terrified: he was very young, accompanying his mother, who had gone to see None But the Lonely Heart with him, a Cary Grant weepie that perhaps coincidentally concerned a man's love for, and guilt about, his mother. As the lights went down and the curtains parted, little William had no idea what was going on, and was very scared, but soon he had the movie bug and was seeing all sorts of cinema from all over the world, including Citizen Kane which made the deepest impression with its tale of the fickleness of fate creating public might and personal tragedy. When he had a chance to direct The Exorcist, based on William Peter Blatty's book, he knew he was the right man to do it...
We're led to believe that was down to his background and his experience, which were the chief motivations for it to become the biggest horror movie of all time in 1973, but documentary director Alexandre O. Philippe could not resist including the possibility of divine intervention guiding his artistic hand, and you get the impression during this chat that he was guiding his subject to the spiritual explanations of what had struck such a nerve with global audiences. But Friedkin was not Catholic, and many of those who made the film a blockbuster were not either, so how could something so specific in its religious details hit that chord and make believers out of so many millions of cinemagoers? Was there something in our brains that renders us susceptible?
This effort does not get into that so much, more wrapped up in Friedkin's process than the enormous effect it had on almost all who watched it, but he does touch on aspects which may go some way to explanations. Ambiguity, he says, is not something he particularly aims for, yet there it is in his work, and nowhere more than The Exorcist, featuring events that could be interpreted through the imaginations of its main characters (the mother, Ellen Burstyn, and priest, Jason Miller), but who really watches this and thinks that? While it's unfolding, you absolutely believe the experiences of those seeing this demonic possession of a little girl are what it genuinely happening to her, even when a just as possible explanation is that each and every one of the main players has been caught up in a religious mania and the girl is severely mentally ill.
Much like the way the audiences, having become cosmically nervous about rejecting God in the secular seventies, never mind those who never lost that faith, were convinced of The Exorcist's authenticity - it's not mentioned here that Blatty based his novel on a supposedly real case of possession, but you can bet everyone who saw the end result had heard that, no matter that huge liberties were taken with facts that were open to question anyway. Friedkin finds the main flaw in the film is the act of apparent suicide at the end, a dreadful sin as he reminds us that a man regaining his faith would not do, though it's clear audiences who did not believe the demon had won believed Father Karras had performed an act of Christian self-sacrifice, not self-destruction, and found salvation that way. Chalk one win up to God. Other than that, the director goes through his techniques and delivers the anecdotes like the pro he is: the soundtrack business is especially revealing, and Max von Sydow's own issues over his lack of faith are absorbing. If it was a shade "Blu-ray extra", it was still good that Friedkin had got all this stuff down on video. Music by Jon Hedel and Anthony Weeden.
[Leap of Faith is available exclusively on Shudder.]