It shouldn’t take an episode of the sitcom Louie to remind me that Ellen Burstyn’s performance in The Exorcist is phenomenal — but that’s what happened.
I’ve always known her portrayal of Chris NacNeil was extraordinarily good (they don’t just hand out those Oscar nominations to any random performance… right?). So what the hell happened during Burstyn’s guest-starring role as Evanka, an elderly Hungarian woman living n Louie’s building, that re-affirmed my appreciation for her Exorcist performance?
On paper, The Exorcist and Louie are vastly different productions separated by four decades.
The Exorcist was a multi-million dollar Hollywood project that went months over schedule and dangerously over-budget, ultimately becoming a groundbreaking achievement in cinema.
Louie is a micro-budget television production with a limited crew and extremely fast-paced, indie-style shooting schedule, which has become a groundbreaking achievement in television for both the way it is produced and its deadpan comedic tone.
Where Louie and The Exorcist are similar (hear me out…) is in their shooting style and delivery.
Director William Friedkin famously adopted a documentary style for The Exorcist with great success. By holding the camera back and creating a feeling of eavesdropping for the audience, we’re privy to their troubled conversations but we’re never in the middle of scenes. The camera only ever dives into scenes to pull us closer to the action during the exorcism finale and the crucifixion scene.
Similarly, Louie is a fly-on-the-wall glimpse into comedian Louis C.K.‘s take on life where the camera doesn’t dictate any action. The lens holds on performances and invites the audience to secretly eavesdrop from nearby.
Ellen Burstyn appeared in Louie season 4, episodes 3-5, titled ‘Elevator’ parts 1, 2 and 3.
One of the finest performances ever given to film often gets left behind when the topic of The Exorcist is brought up (at least in my experience).
Often top of the list are things like Regan levitating or masturbating with the crucifix. Then you have all the bile quotes like; “Your mother suck cocks in hell!”; and “Let Jesus fuck you!”; or the pea soup, or the fact that the film is based on a best-selling novel which was based on a true story. Then there’s Linda Blair’s mental state and the media attention she received after the film became a worldwide phenomenon.
In the most recent season of Louie (season 5, airing Mondays on FX), Ellen Burstyn played THAT GIRL in a leading storyline that consumed THIS MANY episodes.
On paper, The Exorcist and Louie are vastly different productions separated by decades. The Exorcist was a multi-million dollar project that went months over schedule and scarily over-budget, which went on to become a groundbreaking achievement in cinema.
Louie is a micro-budget television production with a limited crew and extremely fast-paced, indie-style shooting schedule, which has become a groundbreaking achievement in television.
A glance at the shooting schedules and budgets of both projects would indicate a vast difference in productions, yet the intimate elements surrounding Burstyn’s performances are paralleled or the same or freakishly similar.
Friedkin famously adopted a documentary style The Exorcist with great success, holding the camera back and creating a feeling of eavesdropping for the audience. Similarly, Louie is a fly-on-the-wall glimpse into the comedian’s life where the camera doesn’t dictate any action, instead it holds on performances and invites the audience to secretly watch from the side.
Burstyn’s performance in Louie is not like her role as Chris MacNeil in any way, and yet– in a comforting way– it reminded me of just how perfect her portrayal was from start to finish. Nobody can deny her supreme talent and dedication to her craft.
If you haven’t seen Louie before, I highly recommend it.