Hey everybody! Sorry it took me so long, but I've been working on some themes for the summer. I think I came up with some good choices but ultimately that will be up to you guys to decide. Before we get into it, let me first send out a gigantic thank you to everyone who came out to see My Winnipeg, I wasn't sure how everyone would take it since it's a little odd, but you guys were great, and we had a really great discussion afterwards! It shouldn't surprise me, though, because you guys are awesome! Film Club is definitely the best program at the library because of your support, so again, a million thanks to you all.
NOW, for the month of May, I've dug up another little quirky documentary film that, while on the surface appears very simple, is actually quite deep when you dig a little...well, deeper. We will be watching the directorial debut of the (now) famous documentary filmmaker, Errol Morris. The film in question is Gates of Heaven.
Gates of Heaven is a 1978 documentary film by Errol Morris about the pet cemetery business. It was made when Morris was unknown and did much to launch his career.
The film, like Morris' other works, is unnarrated and the stories are told purely through interviews. It is divided into two main sections. The first concerns Floyd "Mac" McClure and his lifelong quest to allow pets to have a graceful burial. McClure's business associates and his competitor, a manager of a rendering plant, are interviewed. The second part concerns the Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park. This operation is run by John "Cal" Harberts and his two sons. This business is far more successful and continues to operate today, run by Cal's son Dan Harberts.
Noted director Werner Herzog pledged that he would eat the shoe he was wearing if Morris' film on this improbable subject was completed and shown in a public theater. When the film was released, Herzog lived up to his wager and the consumption of his footwear was made into the short film Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. Gates of Heaven launched Morris' career and is now viewed as a classic. In 1991, Roger Ebert named it one of the ten best films ever made, and wrote that the film was an "underground legend," and in 1997 put it in his list of The Great Movies, saying this of the film, "There are many invitations to laughter during this remarkable documentary, but what Gates of Heaven finally made me feel was an aching poignancy about its subjects. They say you can make a great documentary about almost anything, if only you see it well enough and truly, and this film proves it. Gates of Heaven is a documentary about pet cemeteries and their owners. It was filmed in Southern California, so of course we immediately anticipate a sardonic look at peculiarities of the Moonbeam State. But then Gates of Heaven grows ever so much more complicated and frightening, until at the end it is about such large issues as love, immortality, failure, and the dogged elusiveness of the American Dream. Gates of Heaven is so rich and thought-provoking, it achieves so much while seeming to strain so little, that it stays in your mind for tantalizing days."
This was, appropriately, the first film I saw by Errol Morris and I fell in love with it. Morris is a very skilled filmmaker with an eye for the peculiar and the unique. I hope you can make it out to this interesting film.
We will be meeting Thursday, May 21st at 6:15pm. Hope to see you there!
Here's an excerpt from the film, courtesy of The Criterion Collection: