By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Today, Alexandre O. Philippe’s MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN hits select theaters and VOD, offering an in-depth exploration of an all-time horror classic. And the filmmaker is already serving up another documentary about a ’70s genre landmark: LEAP OF FAITH: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON “THE EXORCIST,” currently making the festival rounds. RUE MORGUE got some exclusive words from Philippe about the project.
“The best way I can describe it is, it’s a chamber film about THE EXORCIST,” he tells us. “It’s only William Friedkin, and it’s about his process, his approach to his art and directing and to his way of thinking, and it’s a look at THE EXORCIST that I believe is completely novel.”
Friedkin himself created a doc about real exorcism called THE DEVIL AND FATHER AMORTH a couple of years back, but Philippe explains that LEAP OF FAITH remains focused on the seminal screen rite and the man who helmed it. “I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go there,” he says of FATHER AMORTH. “I interviewed William Friedkin for four days, so we had a lot of material, and of course we talked about THE DEVIL AND FATHER AMORTH, but to me, that was peripheral to what I was doing. It’s very much a look at his craft, and although it’s a film about THE EXORCIST, we didn’t even talk about special effects. He didn’t want to discuss that. We talked about art, we talked about opera and classical music, and CITIZEN KANE and THE THIRD MAN, and so it looks at THE EXORCIST through a very different lens. It’s a very personal film, I think, for Friedkin.”
LEAP OF FAITH, he further reveals, owes its existence to a stroke of luck. “I didn’t plan on making this movie at all; in fact, he’s the one who came to me. I was in Sitges at the film festival, having lunch in a restaurant with Gary Sherman [director of DEATH LINE and DEAD & BURIED], and William Friedkin was there, and he called me to his table. He was like, ‘Hey, Alex, come over here, I want to tell you some stories about Hitchcock’ [whom Philippe covered in his PSYCHO documentary 78/52]. I had never met him before, and that led to a lunch in LA, which led to him saying, ‘Why don’t you read my autobiography, and if you find an angle, let me know,’ which led to those four days of interviews on THE EXORCIST and this amazing project. Honestly, I think it’s going to be our best film to date, and if I had not been sitting there at that particular time, I don’t think it would have happened.”
This is Philippe’s fourth venture into the dark secrets of the horror genre, following MEMORY, 78/52 and DOC OF THE DEAD. While he’s a longtime fan of scary cinema, he notes that this focus in his work hasn’t been intentional. “In many ways, I feel like those films come and find me, if that makes any sense, instead of the other way around. There is an impulse that is not completely conscious. It probably goes back to when I was a kid in Switzerland; I was a huge movie buff and watched a lot of horror movies on VHS, and all of those films had a profound effect on me. Clearly, something happened when I was a child that makes me go back to those movies—but I can’t remember, for example, the first time I started thinking that I wanted to make a film about PSYCHO’s shower scene. I do remember that at some point I went to Kerry [Deignan Roy], my producer, and started talking about it, and eventually we decided to pull the trigger and do it. [Making a movie about ALIEN’s] chestburster was something that came out of that; it felt like the one scene I wanted to explore next.
“So there’s something inside me that lets me know when a film is right, as the next project,” he continues. “It’s a very instinctive thing. I would like to do movies that are not necessarily horror-related, because it gets pretty dark sometimes—but there’s a lot of light in those films too, you know? THE EXORCIST is very spiritual, and PSYCHO and ALIEN are so full of ideas that discussing these movies is an extraordinarily valuable thing for us to do as human beings. That’s what I love about horror at that level; forget that they’re horror films, they’re just some of the greatest movies ever made.”