Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The subtly of evil and how it can flourish in the wake of science

The "banality" of evil has drifted into cliche. Evil isn't banal like everything that we humans do, evil takes many forms from larger-than-life prouncements where we scream and pound podiums to the quiet afterthought of a denied medical benefit that reduces our quality of life ultimately leading to death. Evil may be the color of money but we find it doesn't confine itself to money (although evil does discriminate if you have any doubt about that take a look at the history of the jews, Kurds and any other group that finds itself the scapegoat of political and economic  disorder caused by those who insist on becoming the ruling class).

Evil as portrayed in film has moved far beyond the black hats of sinister looks of depression era movies. Hitchcock paved the way portraying evil as charming and often the work of intelligent people some of them the movers and shakers of industry. All one has to do is to look to our current economic crisis and see the subtle impact of evil in the form of greedy Wall Street investors who are only working towards their self interest never realizing that self interest remains the altar where the essence of our humanity dies gutted by those who never meant to be evil, never meant to harm others but leave victims in their wake. Sometimes those same people DO know what they are doing but substitute the word "business" for evil as they evict people from their homes. That's not to suggest that we don't set ourselves up for the triumph of evil--often we do by buying into the marketing messages force fed to us on the internet and by multimedia conglomerants which by their nature represent the base building blocks of evil--anonymity, lack of responsbility, etc.

The perfect place to examine evil and its impact is religion. Why? Because there has been as much damage caused by religion which continues to be politics by another name as the good that religion has done. Often the evil of our society comes gift wrapped with positive messages fooling us that it's OK to unwrap this bomb that does so much damage to our world, our community.

In the arts the best place to examine the nature of evil outside of literature is film. Hitchcock, Welles, Renior and others gave us a much more complex view of how we can dip into this poisoned well and how it can contaminate our souls. As horror films moved beyond the exploitative elements that gave birth to them, the filmmaker embraced the potential to understand the nature of evil and how it informs our humanity. "The Exorcist" released in 1973 gives us a broad canvas to give us a glimpse into evil and how science can explain it away and, in the process, rob us of the ability to see it for what it truly is--a parasite that tears at who we are making us into something other than who we want to be.

There was a time when horror flicks thrived on creating tension and actually had some character development in addition to the shocks and chills of the genre. While exploitation horror flicks have always been around, director William Friedkin ("The French Connection", "Sorceror", "Cruising", "To Live and Die in L.A.") and writer/producer William Peter Blatty tucked elements of those films into a film examining the issues of faith, science and the cost of redemption with "The Exorcist". Much like Roman Polanski with "Rosemary's Baby", Friedkin and Blatty chose to use the horror film to dig into human behavior as much as they shock us.

The new 2 disc Blu-ray gives us both the original theatrical cut and the 2000 "Extended Director's Cut" that Friedkin reworked adding in a couple of scenes, shuffling the order of a few scenes and editing out a few others in his pursuit of perfection. Both versions have their merits and both look marvelous in a stunning (for a 1973 film) transfer that doesn't betray the grainy look of the original film while still capturing the film with sharpness only hinted at in the previous DVD releases. As to which you prefer, that'll be your call. As much as I enjoy the addition of the show stopping "spider walk" sequence (and it does, indeed, stop the movie cold as the screen briefly goes to black)and some of the editing/digital tricks up Friedkin's sleeve, the original film resonates more for me and allows our imagination and the psychological terror a bit more free rein. The original film runs 122 minutes while the "Extended Director's Cut" runs about 132 minutes.
Be aware though that Friedkin has tinkered with the 2000 "Director's Cut" that appeared on DVD removing some flash images of demons, etc. that evidently he felt might have been a bit cheesy in retrospect. Nevertheless, this is, largely, that 2000 DVD release with the exception of these minor differences. There isn't any additional footage beyond that edition included in the film that I could tell.
The sound is marvelous throughout with a 5.1 mix that adds a wallop to the impact of the film. There's also a featurette on the different versions of "The Exorcist" that is quite interesting and an insightful commentary from director William Friedkin (although Friedkin occasionally falls into the bad habit of telling us what we're seeing he usually comes up with some interesting insight in the process). These are located on the first disc which features the "Director's Cut" from 2000.

The second disc features the original cut of the film, two commentaries one with Friedkin and one with Blatty as well as the 1998 "The Fear of God: The Making of The Exorcist" from the original DVD release. We also get the interview gallery featuring various members of the cast and crew discussing everything from the original ending intended for the film to the meaning of the film. Friedkin's introduction of the 1998 DVD is included here as well.There is, of course, the original ending of the film which differs subtly from the final version with a bit more ambiguity.

The film comes complete with a three part documentary on the making of the film which reveals a lot of the difficult issues that dogged the production both prior to release and after it hit theaters where many religious groups condemned the film which is ironic given the themes that are at the heart of the film.
The first edition of this also comes with a handsome looking booklet looking like a hardcover book with biographies of the cast members, behind-the-scenes and production stills as well as a one sheet with thoughts on the film by the director.

Warner has done a brilliant job of transferring the film to Blu-ray (although some may quibble a bit with the choices by Friedkin and his DP in regards to color saturation--but it IS their film)and have brought over all the extras from previous editions as well as adding a three part documentary on the making of the film.
Is "The Exorcist" the scariest film ever made? That's for you to judge--it all depends on whether or not you like your horror served hot or cold (i.e., shock value exploitation type horror or a mixture of that with psychological character driven suspense) either way Warner has once again done a brilliant job of creating the ultimate Blu-ray of the film for home video.

Friedkin and Blatty managed to make a horror film that touched on our deepest, darkest fears AND also managed to deal with a number of major themes all while giving us complex, interesting characters an accomplishment that very few directors have managed when creating a horror film (Ridley Scott's "Alien" also does much the same thing) that is psychologically claustrophobic.

While Friedkin and Blatty may take the road more commonly traveled (it is the Devil that caused all the damage) they also use the Devil and evil as a device to examine the darkness that tears at our own souls and how we can either shed light on that darkness or continue to walk into that basement as our own light is extinguished in the process. Someone has to protect that single solidary flame and sometimes, in the process, our protector also becomes our victim.

Highly recommended.