Movies Are My Wife

Married to the Movies — Mdino's Blog


In his recent films, documentarian Errol Morris utilizes the frenetic editing techniques so often assimilated into the work of today’s MTV inspired producers.  This is one of the main reasons earlier Morris works such as GATES  OF HEAVEN (1978) and VERNON, FLORIDA (1982) can seem to the uninitiated like fossilized remnants of a retired film school professor’s ancient memories.  The approach used in these films, particularly lengthy interviews without cutaways or changes in camera angles, can try the patience of many in our modern ADHD world.  However, viewed in the proper state of mind, these techniques can be mined for great rewards.  When we realize what the director is getting at and tune into the true personas of the interview subjects, the talking heads become mesmerizing.  Over and over again in his early films, Morris uses these long interviews to allow those appearing on camera to reveal exactly what it is that makes them tick.  In the process, they often introduce us to profound truths about love and loneliness. 

With GATES OF HEAVEN, Morris gives us the story of two pet cemetaries: One is forced to close because of financial difficulties, while the other is chosen as the relocation site for the former’s animal departed.  At once macabre, touching and funny, the people in charge of these memorial parks are humanized in a way not possible if the editor’s scissors had been used more often. 

VERNON, FLORIDA introduces us to the denizens of small town southern America, and a wonderful but often strange place it can be.  These people are very laid back and so is the visual and editing style of the filmmaker.  One is struck by the ease with which Morris tells these tales, but actually it is the people themselves who enthrall us.  Even so, there are times when Morris’ committment to his mission goes a little too far.  In GATES OF HEAVEN, an interview segment featuring an elderly woman seated outside her mobile home, goes on for more than four minutes without a cut.  But more often than not the results of these long takes prove a revelation and not a bore. 

In time, with films such as THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988), Errol Morris would abandon the slow and methodical.  This film, a true life crime story that helped free an innocent man from prison, has been called a documentary film noir.  It is often cinematically breath taking and owes much of its power to a stirring Philip Glass score.  The earlier films discussed here shunned music completely and are almost minimalist works.  But they lack none of the power of Morris’ later films and stand as masterpieces of the documentary form.

January 10, 2010 Posted by | documentary, Errol Morris, film directors | , , , , , , | Leave a comment