Mercedes and the Monster (photo illustration by Todd McNaught)
It inspired an ocean of imitators and aspects of it seem quaint in the context of the age of digitally effected gore. But almost 40 years after its release, The Exorcist remains a chilling classic that transcended the horror genre due to both William Friedkin’s masterful direction and Linda Blair’s stellar acting.
According to the great director Fritz Lang, it was his meeting with Joseph Goebbels, the Mad Man of Nazi propaganda, that led him to flee Germany the very same day.
As Lang tells it, this fateful meeting came sometime around Goebbels’ ban on Lang’s 1933 film, The Testament of Dr Mabuse, which was outlawed for its veiled attack on Hitler and his vile policies. Amongst the oft quoted similarities between Lang’s film and the insane Furher, was Dr. Mabuse’s devilish plan for a 1,000 years of crime, and Hitler’s desire of a 1,000 year Reich. The unstated connection between brutal criminality and looney-tunes Nazis was there for all to see.
It’s a good story, but one that has little bearing on fact, as it now appears that the meeting never took place. Goebbels’ diaries have no mention of the alleged meeting, and Lang’s escape from the jackboot of National-Socialism didn’t happen until several months after the alleged job offer from Dr Joe.
More damaging in hindsight was Lang’s failure to make any reference to his own Jewish ancestry. His mother, Paula was Jewish, though she converted to Catholicism after marrying Lang’s father, Anton. Instead Fritz described himself as an “Austrian director”, at a time when the persecution of those of Jewish faith was a brutal reality on the streets of Germany. Indeed describing himself as an “Austrian director” could have been construed as aligning himself with the birth country of the Furher.
Later, while living in the safety of the United States, Lang said in his entry for Current Biography - “While many famous Jewish directors had to flee Germany because of the ‘Aryan’ work decrees, Lang, a Christian, fled only because he is a believer in democratic government.”
Okay, so Lang could argue that man made laws had no rule over him, as he believed in the Higher Court of his Christian God. Fine. But why persist in re-telling a fanciful tale forty years on?
Almost everyone tells lies, and the lies are not important. Some people are loved because of their ability to tell great lies, and we listen expectantly for them to tell their biggest and best whoppers. And so it is with Lang, as he tells tale after tale in this entertaining and immensely watchable interview with director of The Exorcist, William Friedkin. From running away from home, to surviving by his wits, to making his classic films Metropolis and M, to meetings with criminals and murderers - one killer kept the hands of victims under his bed, to his meeting with the Nazi Mad Man, to Hollywood and after, Lang, looking rather like Dr Strangelove, describes his hugely fantastic life.
Gus Van Sant‘s experiment from ‘99 where he essentially served up a Xerox of Hitchcock’s Psycho has nothing on the ongoing cinematic “homaging” going down in Turkey. Cinefamily goes so far as to declare the country,
the wild, wild Middle East of mondo macabro. Here you find the outlying reaches of world exploitation, where the heroes are macho men who can beat you up with just their moustaches, and the copyright infringement flows as freely as the currents of the Bosphorus River. From the wholesale plundering of battle footage from American sci-fi smash hits (with which to mash into their own space operas), to the endless cavalcade of scene-for-scene, shot-for-shot, unauthorized remakes (Turkish Exorcist, Turkish Death Wish, Turkish Young Frankenstein)—the bandits of Turkish cinema were unstoppable. These films were lawless, shameless, and hilarious. Infinite ambition and infinitesimal budgets lead to cheap remakes that resemble a high school theater version of Apocalypse Now; to make up for their poverty, these filmmakers upped the sadism, mayhem, and titillation to their tastes and our delight.
Well, thanks to YouTube, you can now watch Seytan—The Turkish Exorcist—in 14 soup-spewing installments. I’m pretty sure they’re all posted, but if you can’t find ‘em all, even casual fans of William Friedkin’s Exorcist will have no trouble spotting the devil in Ms. G?ɬ