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How ‘The Exorcist’ score came together after the director rejected Lalo Schifrin & Bernard Herrmann
08:43 am

Pakistani poster.

William Friedkin’s horror film, The Exorcist, has been scaring the pants off of moviegoers—as well as making viewers nauseous—since its 1973 release. Even with all of its terrifying and stomach-churning imagery, the picture wouldn’t have been nearly as intense if it weren’t for the hair-raising soundtrack. It’s surprising, then, that director Friedkin hadn’t intended to use the music that ended up as the score for The Exorcist.

Friedkin had first turned to Bernard Herrmann—perhaps the greatest composer in the history of film—to see if he might be up for scoring The Exorcist. To Friedkin’s delight, Hermann was interested, so the director set up a screening. But it did not go well. At all. Recently, Friedkin wrote about the experience:

When he [Herrmann] came out of the screening room he said, “I might be able to help you with this piece of shit, but you’ll have to leave it with me, and I’ll see if I can come up with something.” I had heard he was an abrasive, no-bullshit guy, outspoken to the point of insult. Still, I was stunned at his reaction.

“Leave it with you?”

“Yeah, and when I’m done I’ll mail you a score,” he snapped.

“You’re not interested in my input or ideas?” I asked.

He cracked a weary smile. “Hey kid, how many pictures have you made? I’ve been writing music for forty years.”

“I love your music, but I’m too close to this film to just have you, or anyone else, mail me a score,” I replied.

“Lemme tell ya something,” he said. “You gotta get rid of that first scene, whatever it is in the desert. I don’t understand it and nobody else will either. The picture doesn’t start until you see that kid in her bedroom.”

Now he was losing me. “Out of curiosity,” I said, “what sort of score do you think this needs?”

“There’s a medieval church called St. Giles Cripplegate in the Barbican Center,” he said, “It’s got an amazing organ and beautiful acoustics. That’s where I’d record the score.”

“A church organ for The Exorcist? I don’t think so,” I said. My hostility was now echoing his.

I shook his hand and said, “Thanks for letting me meet an interesting person,” turned, and left. I respect Herrmann, and still love his work, but what good is it if you’re not on the same page?

Friedkin then went to another big name in film scoring, Lalo Schifrin. The two came to an agreement, with Friedkin explaining to Schifrin that he wanted chamber music—pieces played by a small group of musicians and similar to what he had been using as his temporary score. Friedkin:

On the first day of recording, he booked what I remember to be about 80 musicians, many of them playing electrified instruments. There were four or five percussionists. This wasn’t going to be chamber music. The first cue he laid down was brassy, percussive, and loud, not at all what we discussed, but the assembled musicians all applauded when he finished.

I took him aside. “Lalo, this isn’t what I asked for.” He seemed surprised.

“What’s wrong?” He asked. “It’s too big,” I said. “It’ll drown out the sound effects and dialogue.”

We went into the control room and he asked the main recording engineer to play back the tracks. They almost blew the speakers out. He walked over to the master dial on the recording panel. “I see the problem” he said, and turned the overall level down. It sounded like 80 guys playing lower. It was completely inappropriate for the film.

I shook my head, “This isn’t going to work.”

When Schifrin refused to change a thing, Friedkin found himself back at square one.
Schifrin, Friedkin, and Herrmann.

With the release date for the movie approaching, Friedkin ended up going with what he had been using as the temporary score (though the music would have to be re-recorded, due to rights issues), plus some additional pieces. The classical works used in The Exorcist—especially those written by the Polish composer, Krzysztof Penderecki—are totally unnerving, filled with “stabbing” violins that recall Bernard Herrmann’s score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Still, Friedkin felt there was still something that was missing. He spent three days in the Warner Bros. music library in the hope of finding something resembling a lullaby. Once again, here’s Friedkin:

After listening to and discarding everything after a few bars, I came across a track called “Tubular Bells” by someone named Mike Oldfield on a new label in England, Virgin Records. After the opening motif, which I found haunting, the rest of the track was a kind of demonstration of the sound made by various bells. But, that opening motif, it was perfect.

“Tubular Bells” is taken from Oldfield’s 1973 LP of the same name, which consists of two side-long pieces (this was the era of prog rock, remember). As Friedkin implied, the section of “Tubular Bells” used for the film is taken from the opening minutes of the album. Though it was really only used for one scene in The Exorcist, “Tubular Bells” became known as the film’s theme. In many countries, a single version was released as such.
Japanese picture sleeve.

Today, Halloween 2017, the good people at Waxwork Records are dropping their LP reissue of the soundtrack to The Exorcist. It’s been remastered from the original master tapes and pressed on 180 gram colored vinyl, with new liner notes penned by William Friedkin (which we quoted from here). This deluxe edition of the soundtrack also includes a booklet and new artwork by Justin Erickson of Phantom City Creative.
Find out everything you need to know about Waxwork’s reissue of The Exorcist on their website.

After the jump, listen to the premiere of “Georgetown”/“Tubular Bells” from the remastered LP…

Posted by Bart Bealmear
08:43 am
The terrifying rejected ‘Exorcist’ soundtrack the director literally threw out a window
07:59 am

William Friedkin’s 1973 masterpiece, The Exorcist, was a landmark in horror cinema, a cultural phenomenon, and (if adjusting for inflation) the ninth highest-grossing film of all time.

The film makes minimal use of music—a stylistic choice which gives the film an air of stark realism despite the supernatural events depicted onscreen. Of the minimal music used in the film, most famous is Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells,” which went on to become a smash so huge that it essentially birthed the Virgin empire

Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells,” used as the main theme for ‘The Exorcist.’
Before Friedkin settled on Oldfield’s prog masterpiece, he had originally commissioned a score from Lalo Schifrin, who had famously done soundtrack work for Cool Hand Luke, Dirty Harry, and the instantly recognizable Mission Impossible TV show theme.

Composer/conductor, Lalo Schifrin
Schifrin’s atonal Exorcist score was very much in the vein of Krzysztof Penderecki (whose “Cello Concerto No. 1” of Polymorphia was used in the film’s final edit) with the addition of Bernard Herrmann-esque “fright stabs.”

This score was used in an advanced trailer which some have called the “banned trailer.” As the stories go, this trailer literally made audiences sick when it was shown. It’s unclear if the sounds and images were simply upsetting or if the flashing images actually caused seizures in some viewers.

Schifrin, speaking to Score Magazine revealed some of the history of his work and Friedkin’s reaction:

The truth is that it was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life, but I have recently read that in order to triumph in your life, you may previously have some fails. What happened is that the director, William Friedkin, hired me to write the music for the trailer, six minutes were recorded for the Warner’s edition of the trailer. The people who saw the trailer reacted against the film, because the scenes were heavy and frightening, so most of them went to the toilet to vomit. The trailer was terrific, but the mix of those frightening scenes and my music, which was also a very difficult and heavy score, scared the audiences away. So, the Warner Brothers executives said Friedkin to tell me that I must write less dramatic and softer score. I could easily and perfectly do what they wanted because it was way too simple in relevance to what I have previously written, but Friedkin didn’t tell me what they said. I´m sure he did it deliberately. In the past we had an incident, caused by other reasons, and I think he wanted vengeance. This is my theory. This is the first time I speak of this matter, my attorney recommended me not to talk about it, but I think this is a good time to reveal the truth.


Finally, I wrote the music for the film in the same vein as that of the trailer. In fact, when I wrote the trailer I was in the studio with Friedkin and he congratulated me for it. So, I thought i was in the right way… but the truth was very different.

According to Neil Lerner’s Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear, Friedkin had asked Schifrin for a score that “did not sound like music” and which was “tonal and moody.”

Reportedly, Friedkin was so displeased with the partial score that Schifrin had submitted that he literally threw it out of the studio window—mirroring the second story window ejections of Burke Dennings and Father Karras in the film. It’s no wonder Schifrin called it one of the “most unpleasant experiences” of his life. 

After the jump, hear the full terrifying (and rejected) Lalo Schifrin score for ‘The Exorcist’...

Posted by Christopher Bickel
07:59 am
Voice of the demon: ‘The Exorcist’ and the legacy of Mercedes McCambridge

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.

In the spirit of Tara’s posting of creepy test footage from the film earlier this month, here’s the gifted Blair voicing the scene that introduces Regan to Father Karras followed by the eventual dubbing.

After the jump: meet the voice behind the possession…plus bonus audience reaction footage!

Posted by Ron Nachmann
12:13 pm
Tales of the Unexpected: William Friedkin interviews Fritz Lang

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.

With thanks to Wendy James

Posted by Paul Gallagher
05:46 pm
The Ekmek Is Mine!  A Look At “Seytan,” Turkey’s Frame-By-Frame Exorcist Rip-Off

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

Posted by Bradley Novicoff
10:00 am