Monday, October 14, 2013

The Exorcist, "a hymn to Georgetown."

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the release of William Friedkin's The Exorcist, a film which, as journalist Terry Mattingly reports, was once cited by researchers as the film with "the greatest spiritual effect on viewers, in terms of provoking people to think about sin, salvation and life after death." The Exorcist is also, as I once wrote here, "the Georgetown movie," a film with an intimate connection to the university and neighborhood in which it was set and filmed. To make clear just how intimately The Exorcist is linked with Georgetown, director William Friedkin and writer William Peter Blatty recently returned to the Hilltop to reminisce and to revisit old haunts. Here is some of what Friedkin and Blatty had to say, as reported by Brian Truitt:
[Friedkin and Blatty] shot in several places on the Georgetown campus, the place that not only strengthened Blatty’s own faith and inspired him to become a writer, but also led to some aspects of The Exorcist.

"The film is in many ways a hymn to Georgetown," says Friedkin, 78.

It was in White-Gravenor Hall in a New Testament class that Blatty first heard of the 1949 exorcism of Maryland boy Roland Doe, and that sparked his interest in writing about the possession of Regan. And the infamous fall of Father Karras was influenced by Blatty watching one of his physics classmates take a hospitalizing tumble after trying to steal a final exam.

Blatty modeled Karras after his own feelings, he says. The death of Karras’s mother caused him to lose faith in God for a time, while the passing of Blatty’s mother also was deeply traumatic, "a period when my faith was more a hope than a belief."

Exploring the evidence of his faith in writing The Exorcist was "very gratifying because it solidified my belief that I would one day see my mother again," Blatty says.
The Truitt article also touches on a matter of longstanding controversy concerning The Exorcist, namely the removal from the original 1973 theatrical release of some scenes which helped to bolster the religious message. A Jesuit who was involved in the production of the film told me that Friedkin had cut the scenes - despite strong objections from screenwriter Blatty - because the director didn't want his work to be regarded as "a commercial for the Catholic Church." Friedkin eventually came around, restoring the excised footage in a 2000 director's cut. Here is more from the article:
Through the years, the film has grown in popularity, but Blatty missed the spiritual aspects from his original work, so Friedkin added 12 minutes for an extended director’s cut that was released in theaters in 2000.

"I felt that Bill created this, and the film had played by that time for about 27 years with those cuts that worked marvelously well," Friedkin says. "I thought, 'Why shouldn’t Bill have the version he wants at that point?'"

One of the additional scenes between bouts of the exorcism had Karras wondering what the point of the whole thing was and why a demon would invade the body of a little girl.

"And Merrin answers that the girl is not the target," Blatty says. "The girl is us, every one of us in this house, and the purpose is to make us feel vile, bestial, rotten and corrupt so that even if there were a God, he could not possibly love us."

"That in my head was not only the moral context, but it was the context that gave the audience a reason not to hate itself for liking the most sensational parts of the film."

. . .

"It was not a promotion for the Catholic Church but definitely a story about the power of Christ and the mystery of faith that continues to this day," Friedkin says. "I’m flattered when people admire it, but when they call it a horror, that’s not how I feel about it."
To read more - and to watch a video tour of Exorcist filming locations in Georgetown, conducted by Blatty and Friedkin - click here. AMDG.


At 10/22/2013 2:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you ever discuss the movie with Father King, who, I believe, advised the makers?


At 10/22/2013 7:55 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Indeed. Fr King was my source for Friedkin's comment that he didn't intend the film to be "a commercial for the Catholic Church." King blessed the sets and crew during the production and was involved in some other ways as well. For example, the room in which Fr Karras lived in the film was modeled after Fr King's room at Georgetown, which the set designers visited and extensively photographed because (as Fr King later recalled) "they wanted to see what a Jesuit's room looks like."

At 10/22/2013 11:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which reminds me of a joke:

Two hippies with long hair, an odor of exotic herbs, etc, are in a train, when a nun enters, and, for lack of seats elsewhere, has no choice but to sit with them.

The hippies make small talk with her, asking her, among other things, why she is wearing a rather large cast around her foot. She replies that she was getting out of the bathtub when she slipped and fell.

A few stops later, sister must alight, and the hippies are happy to be able to talk freely again. Says one of them to the other "What's a bathtub?" to which the other replies: "Don't ask me, I'm not Catholic!"



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