BFI Modern Classics: The Exorcist (Revised 2nd edition)

Author: Mark Kermode

In 2003 the BFI Modern Classics series revised and updated Mark Kermode’s original 1997 study of The Exorcist to take account of the new inclusion of missing scenes and the re-edited version of William Friedkin’s film. Based on the original novel and script by William Peter Blatty, this revised book includes detailed chat about the missing scenes as well as the ones which stayed on the cutting room floor. Re-released in the UK in 1999 as The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen (as opposed to the now more common re-titling of The Director’s Cut or Redux) now famous scenes such as the ‘spider walk’ and the first hospital visit for Regan (Linda Blair) were reinstated in the new version. Through interviews with Friedkin and Blatty the book explains why decisions were made to expel these from the original cut and why they decided to include them in the new version. Perhaps too much emphasis is put on the details of the missing scenes, but clearly Kermode’s writing displays his lifelong passion for this film (he also made a documentary The Fear of God: 25 Years of the Exorcist) and showcases his interviews with Blatty, Friedkin and Blair. The appendix to the book also includes a transcript of dialogue between Blatty and Friedkin recorded in 1998 as they were working on the new version, demonstrating the decisions they made to re-release the film and why they were originally left out.

Kermode is a writer popular amongst cineastes on TV and in critical circles for his contributions to Sight and Sound and the Independent and spends the first two thirds of the book going through the film, its meanings, production problems and challenges, as well as the controversies surrounding the film. The last third (and revised parts of the book) is dedicated to the new version. As with other books in the series it’s well illustrated with stills and production photos from the film but avoids talking about the dreadful sequel (also starring Blair) Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), as well as dismissing the much underrated Exorcist III (1990). The other aspect of the movie that Kermode mentions only briefly is Mike Oldfield’s music from his Tubular Bells album. Although the music and soundtrack was also provided by such modern classical composers as Krzysztof Penderecki and Hans Werner Henze, as well as the additional music supplied by Jack Nitzsche, it’s Oldfield’s music that became as much as a signature for The Exorcist as Bernard Hermann’s stabbing strings for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Despite Friedkin’s assertion in the book that the music was chosen for its banality. it’s a shame that it’s only mentioned in passing and largely overlooked.

Kermode’s authoritative writing displays his long interest in the film and for the most part gives a solid and balanced look at the production beginning with the 1949 story that was the inspiration for the film. He also includes the long held squabbles between Friedkin and Blatty (although there’s clearly a huge respect and love for each other as Kermode shows with the dedication to each other at the end). Blatty and Friedkin also rightly mock the controversies, urban legends and myths that surround the film.

This book, as well as the plethora of films with ‘exorcist’ in the title made over the past few years, highlight how The Exorcist is the most intelligent and innovative of all films about possession.

Chris Hick

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