These are the three films that first made Errol Morris's name as a documentary filmmaker, defining a unique artist with an unsparing eye for the truth--the truth of human behavior or legal authority. His first feature, 1978's Gates of Heaven
, is a wildly funny and surprisingly moving look at pet cemeteries, and the people who invest an extraordinary degree of emotion in their little darlings. Already Morris is locked into his straight-on camera style, which allows his subjects to soliloquize at length about their most obsessive notions.
(1981) is very much of a piece with Gates
, as Morris travels to a small town in Florida's panhandle and allows the oddball denizens to babble on about anything. It has always been an open question whether Morris's blank stare encourages laughter at the expense of his subjects or simply wide-eyed wonder that folks like this carry on in the world, but Vernon
viewers will likely be both amused and astonished.
The Thin Blue Line is like In Cold Blood in the sense that it examines a real-life murder case, but it goes much further than reportage: Morris's investigations actually helped alter the judgments in the Texas case, especially affecting the conviction of a hitchhiker named Randall Adams. And the movie is a work of art: a hypnotic bad dream with surreal images and a lulling rhythmic movement (enhanced by Philip Glass's music). It's the kind of movie that might have taken place in Adams's mind as he sat on Death Row, replaying the events that made his life go wrong. --Robert Horton
Errol Morris and the Art of the Documentary
The Thin Blue Line
On November 28, 1976, when drifter Randall Dale Adams was picked up by teenage runaway David Harris, his fate was sealed. That night, a police officer was shot in cold blood. And though all the facts pointed to Harris, a sociopath with a lengthy rap sheet, Adams was convicted of capital murder. Was Adams guilty? And if not, does Morris unlock the secrets of this baffling case? Vernon, Florida
For the inhabitants of this Southern town, there's no place like home... for the rest of us, there's no place like Vernon, Florida! From the passionate turkey-hunter to the peculiar pet collector, each member of this motley crew has a story to tell. And in the masterful hands of Morris, their obsessions and eccentricities reveal the heart and soul of an unabashedly unique slice of the American pie. Gates Of Heaven
When financial hardship forces California's Foothill Pet Cemetery to close its pearly gates, its dearly departed loved ones are relocated to the nearby Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park. During this tense transition, filmmaker Morris meets a collection of eccentric cemetery operators and anguished animal-lovers and elicits a meditation on love and loneliness that's "strange, chilling [and] appallingly funny" (Newsweek).