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Aug 18 Filming the Exorcist


Today in Washington the principal photography for The Exorcist began. The film would win two Oscars and become the first horror film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and has had a significant influence on popular culture. Based on the fictional novel by William Blatty, he later admitted it was inspired by a 1949 exorcism performed on an anonymous young boy known as "Roland Doe" by the Jesuit priest Fr. William S. Bowdern. The novel changed several details of the case, such as changing the gender of the allegedly possessed victim from a boy to a girl and changing the alleged victim's age. In 2010, the Library of Congress selected the film to be preserved in its National Film Registry, citing it as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

 

Blatty, born and raised in New York City was the fifth and youngest child of Lebanese immigrants. His mother was (née Mouakad), a devout Catholic and he was raised in what he described as "comfortable destitution" by his deeply religious mother, whose sole support came from peddling homemade quince jelly in the streets of Manhattan; He lived at 28 different addresses during his childhood because of non-payment of rent, and he received his bachelor's degree in English from the Jesuit run Georgetown University in 1950. Whilst a student he heard of the case of the exorcisms in St Louis involving Father Bowdern which would inspire his novel the Exorcist. After working in public relations he appeared as a contestant on the Groucho Marx quiz show You Bet Your Life, winning $10,000, and had enough money to quit his job and to write full-time. Thereafter, he never held a regular job.

The Exorcist, published in 1971, topped The New York Times Best Seller list for 17 weeks and remained on the list for 57 consecutive weeks. The book sold more than 13 million copies in the United States alone and was translated into over a dozen languages. This would be published as the first book in a 'faith trilogy' followed by a 1978 book The Ninth Configuration and finally by Legion in 1983. Blatty adapted the exorcist with director William Friedkin into the film version and went on to win an Academy Award for his screenplay. However the filming, for which the preparations began today, was troubled. A fire destroyed the majority of the set, and two of the key actors, Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn suffered long-term injuries in on-set accidents. Ultimately production took twice as long as scheduled and cost more than twice the initial budget.


The scene in which Father Karras listens to the tapes of Regan's dialogue was filmed in the basement of Keating Hall at Fordham. Jesuit University in the Bronx, New York. William O'Malley, who played Father Joseph Dyer in the film, is a real-life Jesuit and was assistant professor of theology at Fordham at the time. Otherwise much of the shoot was in Washington, and Georgetown was paid $1,000 per day of filming. The climax of the film where one of the priests invites the demon to enter him and leave the child, and then falls to his death has become a popular tourist spot called locally ‘The exorcist steps.’ The very step stairs were padded with half-inch-thick rubber to film the death of the character Father Damien Karras. The stuntman tumbled down the stairs twice. Georgetown University students charged people around $5 each to watch the stunt from the rooftops.

The Exorcist was released in 24 theatres in the United States and Canada and audiences flocked to it. Within its first month the film had grossed $7.4 million nationwide, on track to surpass My Fair Lady's $34 million to become Warner Brothers most financially successful film. As of 2019, it has grossed $441 million worldwide which adjusted to 2014 prices, The Exorcist has grossed $1.8 billion. However the audiences reaction was unprecedented, some suffered adverse physical reactions, fainting or vomiting to scenes and even Heart attacks and miscarriages were reported. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease published a paper by a psychiatrist documenting four cases of what he called "cinematic neurosis" triggered by viewing the film. In all he believed the neurosis was already present and merely triggered by viewing scenes in the film, particularly those depicting Regan's possession. He recommended that treating physicians view the movie with their patient to help him or her identify the sources of their trauma. Many children were allowed to see the film, although several cities attempted to ban it outright or prevent children from attending.


"The Exorcist ... was one of the rare horror movies that became part of the national conversation", wrote Jason Zinoman almost 40 years later: "It was a movie you needed to have an opinion about". Journalists complained that coverage of the film and its controversies was distracting the public from the ongoing Watergate scandal. "The Exorcist has done for the horror film what 2001 did for science fiction", wrote one reviewer Many of the classic horror films of the 1930s, like Frankenstein and King Kong had spawned series of films but, the practice had declined in the 60s, and although there had been some exceptions. Blatty remained a committed Roman Catholic and in an interview he explained how when the Jesuits involved in the film had seen the script, and seen it was serious they had agreed to be involved as it was a tangential proof of the existence of God. However, in 2012, Blatty filed a canon law petition against his alma mater, Georgetown University, which he said has been at variance with Catholic Church teaching for decades, inviting speakers who support abortion rights and disobeying Pope John Paul II's instructions issued to Church-affiliated colleges and universities in 1990. The Vatican rejected the petition in 2014