Monday, October 08, 2018

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #4: The Devil and Father Amorth

‘Exorcist’ director William Friedkin, best known for the modern classic ‘The Exorcist’, returns to the subject of exorcism in this Netflix documentary because who better to make a documentary about exorcism than ‘Exorcist’ director William Friedkin, the man who made the classic horror film ‘The Exorcist’.

And if you think that’s overstating Friedkin’s credentials in thuddingly repetitive style, believe me it’s an exercise in subtlety compared to how egotistically Friedkin bangs his own drum in the opening minutes of ‘The Devil and Father Amorth’.

And if you think Friedkin’s presenting style in the opening minutes of ‘The Devil and Father Amorth’ is a hectoring cavalcade of verbal showboating and po-faced self-importance, then brother you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

The documentary’s not-quite-an-hour-an-a-quarter running time has as its centerpiece 13 minutes of skuzzy footage on a home video camera that Friedkin shot of an actual honest-to-God exorcism. At least that’s what Friedkin wants to browbeat us into believing. Personally, I’d say that the phrase “an alleged exorcism” probably gives it more credence than it deserves. “A cheap shitty am-dram performance” is how I’d describe it. And since I’s running this here blog, that’s what we’re going with.

‘The Devil and Father Amorth’ consists of a 13-minute cheap shitty am-dram performance, around which Friedkin assembles some visually dull ‘talking heads’ interview footage, some travel-board-approved vistas of Italy, and endless, agonizing, excruciating footage of his own self yammering away at the camera, taking every opportunity to remind you that he’s William Friedkin, director of ‘The Exorcist’, y’all.

Even the ‘talking heads’ stuff isn’t free of Friedkin. Time and again he deals out a leading question, obviously pushing for his subject – be they a Catholic priest or medical consultant – to state on camera, categorically, that demons exist, evil is real and exorcism works, because he’s ‘Exorcist’ director William Friedkin, goddamnit it, and he directed ‘The Exorcist’.

The whole thing is exhausting to watch. Listening to Friedkin orate for longer than, say, thirty seconds is like unto 24-hours of forced wakefulness while a Dalek screams Donald Trump’s entire archived Twitter stream at you without factoring in the punctuation. Watching the 13 interminable minutes of the cheap shitty am-dram performance that’s supposed to be an exorcism is like watching a particularly unpleasant shade of paint dry. In slo-mo.

It’s so exhausting to watch – so debilitating to engage with – that I staggered it over three evenings. I’m still struggling to come up with a sensible rationale for actually going the distance, for not switching the thing off and picking lint out of my navel instead. Maybe it was misplaced nostalgia. The director, after all, did make a few good movies, albeit a while ago now. Including that horror film. You know, the really influential one.

What was it called again?

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