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April 01, 2010


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I dispensed with the whole "Lehane ripped off Blatty!" argument for the exact same reason you did, Glenn: SPELLBOUND. Blatty didn't get there first, and neither, probably, did Hitchcock/Hecht/Palmer/Sanders.

As for THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, I like it quite a bit more than you do. I even like "San Antone", if for no other reason than its incongruity at the beginning of the film is so perfect. That whole opening is such a strange mishmash of tones and images -- castles, space shuttles, moons, mournful Scott Wilsons -- that for several minutes you don't really know what the hell you're watching. I've always thought the opening of the film really works a treat.

(And "San Antone" is indeed the opening song in ROLLING THUNDER as well, and I think it works much less well there, although, like you, it's been ages since I saw it.)

It would be moronic to argue that Blatty is anywhere near the filmmaker that Scorsese is now, or was at the time CONFIGURATION came out, but I do enjoy his direction in the two films he made. I like the way he opens some scenes with a rapid series of static shots of inaminate objects, setting a particularly creepy, orderly tone, even if he borrowed that idea (unless Blatty himself wrote it into the script) from Friedkin's work in THE EXORCIST.

I will admit, though, that I haven't actually sat down and watched CONFIGURATION all the way through in a long time, and I strongly suspect that its impact now would be considerably less than when I first saw it. At my most enthusiastic, I would say that Kermode nails it, but I think it's safe to say that anybody coming to the film for the first time won't have ever seen anything quite like it before, and that realization can make one very forgiving. The aspect of Blatty's film I'm least looking forward to, when I do watch it again, is the humor, which has always been pretty scattershot. Sometimes it can have a great, old-fashioned one-liner quality (from EXORCIST III: "Shouldn't you be reading the Gospels?" "They don't give you all the latest fashions."), and other times it can be positively smothering (his novella ELSEWHERE).

And yet! It's a fascinating, deeply strange, disturbing, and sometimes beautiful film. You have to love that shot of Christ on the moon.

Matt Miller

I Netflixed THE NINTH CONFIGURATION a couple of years ago, and found it almost singularly odd. It's like they gathered all the resources and elements needed for a mainstream Hollywood thriller and put them in the hands of someone who'd never even SEEN a movie before. Nowhere was this more apparent than the utterly weird sound design.

The bar fight scene is one of the all-time greats, though. And Jason Miller staging Shakespeare plays with an all canine cast is a good gag.


For what it's worth, I projected The Ninth Configurations to 10+ people last year, and they all seemed to enjoy it, some were pretty blown away. Though I definitely contemplated turning the sound down on San Antone halfway through because those first few minutes were pretty embarrassing.

I'm also a big fan of Exorcist III, which has an equally great cast and dialogue (as Bill said above Blatty said above, Blatty write some killer one-liners).

And as for symmetry or omniverse, don't both Configuration and the original Exorcist both end with someone receiving a religious pendant of some kind?

The First Bill C

EXORCIST III is the shizznit. "Do you know that you are in the presence of an artist?" It's a wonderfulL life. That wide shot of the night-nurse and the Gemini killer approaching her from behind with hedge-clippers. Fantastic stuff, and George C. Scott's Raspberry-winning performance is in fact a late-career triumph. I wish all novelists-turned-filmmakers were so unaccomplished.

James Keepnews

I truly never understood the cult that's developed around this film -- we're going to build out an elaborate Spellbound scenario (or, if Roger Mexico is around, sorta like the one set in motion for Slothrop in Gravity's Rainbow, only with far more formal/narrative justification) for one troubled shrink at some abandoned sanitarium? Uh, not to be a wet blanket, but isn't there a WAR on? I'm glad Glenn also had the same aversion to "San Antone" on the saoundtrack in the opening shots -- such incongruity between music and image is why we invented the acronym "WTF?". It does have a great cast, of course, including the underrated Richard Lynch, but redemption is rarely this contrived, much less goofy.

Matt Miller

This movie also ends with one of my least favorite narrative tools: rewarding a character who's overcome a crisis of faith with concrete evidence of the existence of a god/afterlife/etc.

Mike D

No film can be considered wholly pretentious if it has men playing "The Great Escape" in it. And, is it me, or is "Rolling Thunder" a film that is overrated by people's memories? The last time I watched it, about two years ago, it seemed(outside of Devane's unnerving performance) like a sluggish rural "Taxi Driver" with redneck stereotypes and a singularly crappy theme song(the aforementioned "San Antone")? Well, the title's cool, I guess.

D Cairns

I always lump 9th Config together with Castle Keep, as overwritten military tragicomedies set in castles with Scott Wilson...

Oh, and I'm seeking out Pialat movies thanks to you, Glenn.


It really helps, I believe, that NINTH CONFIGURATION has Stacy Keach in the lead. I find him tremendously credible in this odd film, something I can't really say about Leonardo DiCaprio in SHUTTER ISLAND.


I haven't yet managed to get to Shutter Island but despite everything I've done, it seems pretty apparent that the whole thing is based on old Poe's System of Dr Tarr and Professor Fether... or is it? I don't yet know. But when somebody says there's a new film, set in an asylum, with a twist, it's hard not to think "Hmm, what could that possibly be?" I think maybe I'll spend some of my hard earned time off this weekend watching Under Satan's Sun, instead of Shutter Island... maybe it's time to break my unbroken record of seeing every single Scorsese film while it's still in the cinemas...

Fuzzy Bastard

I sort of love Blatty's semicompetent direction---like GANJA & HESS, it produces a kind of alienation that a slicker director isn't necessarily capable of, and that's appropriate for such a heady film.

As for comparing it to SI: I think that as a script, it's much, much better, for the simple reason that it puts the twist in the middle, rather than the end, so we actually get to see the consequences of the reveal play out. Unlike in SI, where the twist comes in at the last minute and turns everything before it into arm-waving distraction, the reveal in TNC fits into the narrative, and is given time to grow and develop and play out in the story, rather than just being a button at the end.

Geez, I liked SI when I saw it, but I seem to like it less and less the more I think about it...

Pete Segall

I'd consider myself a pretty big cheerleader for Configuration (though I haven't seen it in eons) and, at The First Bill C's prompting, Exorcist III, which is both brilliantly loony and a pretty fascinating comment on the original film itself. Plus it's got Brad Dourif, already at an advanced stage of mental instability. And Alonzo Mourning as Death! Blatty is exactly as Fuzzy Bastard says: semicompetent, but he goes about it so aggressively balls-out it's kinda hard not to admire and adore the wackiness he creates.

James Keepnews

Fuzz -- Thanks for kicking the ball Bill Gunn's way in this discussion. A certain Armond White's advocacy for Mr. Gunn notwithstanding, Ganja is unforgettable, and more than a little sui generis in its tone and approach, but one which I wouldn't call "semi-compentent" (semi-financed, maybe!). The proof is in the never-screened Stop!, his Warners-financed/suppressed first film from 1970 I was lucky enough to see at that Whitney retro after Gunn's death now almost 20 years ago -- it's almost brazenly accomplished and gorgeously shot, if also more of a relationship head-trip than the more fanciful Jodorwsky variety being screened contemporaneously. Strindberg meets DuBois on acid in 1970 Puerto Rico? Could be. Folks should check out the new BAM Gunn retro screening to decide for themselves (AND dig on a young Ry Cooder, Buell Neidlinger, &c., &c. on the thoroughly lysergic soundtrack):



Peter - Patrick Ewing is Death, not Alonzo Morning. But Nicol Williamson plays FATHER Morning, and you can hear Lee J. Cobb's voice on the loudspeaker in that same messed-up dream sequence that features Ewing, and a dubbed-over Samuel L. Jackson.

I love EXORCIST III. The opening credits are stunning, and The First Bill C is right: George C. Scott is terrific, as is Ed Flanders, Brad Dourif and Scott Wilson.

Pete Segall

@bill - Ach, you're right. And let's not forget John Thompson's brief, nonsensical cameo.


Or Larry King's...

D Cairns

Or Fabio's.


Oh shit, I forgot about Fabio. What a loony film. Although, to be fair, I don't think Fabio had become famous yet, so it wasn't any sort of goofy stunt. I don't think.

Josh K.

I don't know if George C. Scott's speech to Ed Flanders about the carp in his bathtub in Exorcist III is improvised or written by Blatty, but I fell in love with the movie because of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4p6QgDY1CHo

Speaking of weird cameos in Exorcist III, how about C. Everett Koop, and Patrick Ewing as the Angel of Death?

Josh K.

Whoops. I see Bill already mentioned Patrick Ewing as Death, but it's so bizarre it probably needs repeating a few times.

Fuzzy Bastarrd

I love love love Ganja & Hess---"semicompetent" is mostly in reference to the all over the place eyelines, particularly in the pimp's-apartment killing (I think it was a pimp's apartment? I saw it years back, but that sequence struck me particularly), where screen direction and eyeline are so mismatched as to produce a marvelous kind of haze. Also the refusal to ever cut to the listener during monologues, an Editing 101 trick whose absence makes the dinner-table scene much more effectively claustrophobic than a more "professional" editing job might (as does the oddly head-space-heavy framing). Thanks for the heads-up, James---I'm in the midst of a huge project and I think the Maly Theater's "Uncle Vanya" is the only indulgence I'll be permitted this month, but shizz, I'd love to see more Gunn.

And up until the silly ending, I think Exorcist 3 might be a better film than the first Exorcist---not as ably directed, but way more theologically serious and thought-provoking. And honestly, maybe more creepy---the long hallway track is certainly as scary as the head-turning in the first.

Mike D

D Cairns -

I friggin' love "Castle Keep"! Particularly the silly episodes involving Scott Wilson's Clearboy and his relationship with the phantom VW prototype. Though, I tend to think of Michael Mann's "The Keep" when I think of "Castle Keep". And that film, for all its flaws(and it has many) has a surrealist grandeur that hooks me in no matter how many times I watch it. Plus, it makes a great Tangerine Dream double feature with "Sorcerer".


Let me add some more love for Exorcist III, a truly wonderful movie. It's a tragedy that the studio demanded Blatty's version be changed to make it more populist, although one good thing did come out of the meddling: blending Jason Miller and Brad Dourif into a single character. I hope that one day Blatty's original ending can be re-integrated into the picture and the ridiculous Nicol Williamson exorcism dropped.

Dan The Man

What a painful review! You accuse Blatty of taking his sweet old time telling his story yet you had to go on and on like some incapable of closing his mouth.

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