A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)

Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, and Jason Miller in The Exorcist
Chris McNeil: Ellen Burstyn
Father Damien Karras: Jason Miller
Regan McNeil: Linda Blair
Father Merrin: Max von Sydow
Lt. William Kinderman: Lee J. Cobb
Sharon: Kitty Winn
Burke Dennings: Jack MacGowran
Father Dyer: William O'Malley
Karl: Rudolf Schündler
Willi: Gina Petrushka
Karras's Mother: Vasiliki Maliaros
Demon's Voice: Mercedes McCambridge

Director: William Friedkin
Screenplay: William Peter Blatty
Based on a novel by William Peter Blatty
Cinematography: Owen Roizman
Production design: Bill Malley
Film editing: Norman Gay, Evan A. Lottman
Makeup: Dick Smith

From classic to claptrap, that's pretty much the range of critical opinion about The Exorcist. I tend toward the latter end of the spectrum, feeling that the novelty of the film has worn off over the 45 years of its existence, revealing a pretty threadbare and sometimes offensive premise. It was at the time a kind of breakthrough in the liberation from censorship that marked so much of American filmmaking in the early 1970s. Audiences gasped when Linda Blair growled "Your mother sucks cocks in hell" with Mercedes McCambridge's voice. Today it's little more than playground potty-mouth behavior. The pea soup-spewing and head spinning now draw laughs when they once had people fainting in the aisles. We can argue that there was something noble about those more innocent times, and that we've lost something valuable in an age when the president of the United States can brag about pussy-grabbing and denounce shithole countries and still retain the loyalty and admiration of a third of Americans. But isn't it also true that the move from a horror film based on religious superstition to a horror film like Jordan Peele's Get Out, nominated like The Exorcist for a best picture Oscar, represents an improvement in our taste in movies? Get Out at least has a keenly satiric take on something essential: our racial attitudes. The Exorcist makes no statement about the value of religious faith, unless it's to suggest that it's based on a desire to scare us into believing. To my eyes, The Exorcist is slick but ramshackle: William Peter Blatty's Oscar-winning screenplay never makes a clear connection between Regan's possession and Father Merrin's archaeological dig in Iraq. (The opening scenes of the film were actually shot in the environs of Mosul, which today has succumbed to a different kind of evil.) There are some scenes that make little sense: What's going on when the drunken film director taunts Chris's servant Karl with being a Nazi? What's the point of introducing the detective played by Lee J. Cobb with his usual self-absorption? Some of the plot devices, such as Father Karras's guilt over his mother's death, are pure cliché. And who the hell names a daughter Regan? Was Chris hoping for another kid she could name Goneril? For thousands of moviegoers, however, these objections are nitpicky. For me the flaws are the only thing that remain interesting about The Exorcist.  

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