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'Gates of Heaven' Open on DVD

6 Jul, 2005 By: Brendan Howard

Roger Ebert is quoted on www.errolmorris.com as saying, “After 20 years of reviewing films, I haven't found another filmmaker who intrigues me more … Errol Morris is like a magician, and as great a filmmaker as Hitchcock or Fellini.”

Self-promotion aside, that's high praise for a director who hasn't shied away from every type of film — features, shorts (like the one that aired at the front of the 2002 Academy Awards) and even commercials. Morris is best known for his documentaries, and that's where he started in 1978 when he ran across an article in the San Francisco Chronicle with the headline “450 Dead Pets to Go to Napa.”

“There was an article about a pet cemetery going out of business,” Morris said. “Then I started to talk to some of the people, and the people I met seemed remarkable.”

Gates of Heaven ended up as a fascinating mixture of the dreams of the heartbroken owner of the closing pet cemetery, the anxieties and business plans of the family-owned cemetery taking in the bodies, and the pain and quirkiness of pet lovers whose loved ones' remains were being moved.

That film and two others will be included in The Errol Morris DVD Collection streeting July 26 from MGM Home Entertainment. The set is $49.96, the films $19.98 each separately.

“I'm proud of the movie,” Morris said. “I had the occasion to see it again when Ebert invited me to the Overlooked Film Festival. The movie was stranger and more interesting than I remembered.”

While Morris is taking “a break from documentary for a while,” he said he still loves the medium and will return.

“It's an opportunity to reinvent what it is,” Morris said. “Part of the reason, I think, is budgets are lower in docs and the constraints of the marketplace are different. Hollywood movies have gotten to be cookie-cutter movies. There's gotten to be a sameness in style and presentation.”

Morris believes a range of documentary styles — “documentaries are diary films, political agitprop, verit?, muckraking,” he said — help create more interest in them and, at the same time, free the filmmaker from the constraints of news or strict storytelling.

“I don't believe in balance,” he said. “Balance is a joke. Balance is stuff that [documentarians] do to convince people they're objective. It's kind of faux objectivity. Somehow you provide this or that, and you're secure against the claim that you've been biased. People are biased in how material is presented.”

Morris heard criticism from audiences of his 2003 documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara, that he presented mostly the words of the controversial Vietnam-era secretary of defense's views and less from his detractors.

“I've had the belief from the first movie that it's by examining very subjective accounts that we arrive at the truth,” Morris said. “We see [people] wrong, in error, mistaken or self-deceived. By looking at how one person sees themselves and the world, you can learn something about the world.”

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