A Brief History of Errol Morris

on December 31, 2000 by Chris Wiegand
Kevin Macdonald's follow-up to his Academy Award-winning "One Day in September" is an all-too-brief introduction to the life and work of cult documentary filmmaker Errol Morris. An unsuccessful student, Morris had two early obsessions--the cinema and death. So it is not surprising that before long he was interviewing murderers such as Ed Gein, the serial killer who provided the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." Morris' interest in Gein was such that he even moved to his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin. Morris is a committed filmmaker, devoted to understanding his subject material. He also relocated to make his documentary "Vernon, Florida," a film about the capital city of U.S. insurance fraud. Death and murder dominate most of his work, from "Mr. Death" (the study of an executioner) to "Gates of Heaven" (a film about two pet cemeteries in California). His feature-length documentary about the murder of a Dallas policeman, "The Thin Blue Line," found him a mainstream audience and was so influential that it saved a man from death row.

Morris' skill as an interviewer is explored in the documentary and a link is drawn to his previous work as a private detective in New York City. In explaining his methods of getting people to talk frankly, Morris shows Macdonald his interratrom camera--a machine he invented to allow the interviewee to face both the interviewer and the camera at the same time. Macdonald uses a similar technique in his film, as Morris explains his fascinations head on.

The film features entertaining and insightful interviews with both Werner Herzog (in which he relates the hilarious account of an aborted project about an overgrown chicken named "Mr. Weirdo") and Phillip Glass, who composed the music for "The Thin Blue Line." Macdonald's documentary has a powerful and haunting score itself, complementing Morris' unending obsession with what he refers to as "that one truly grand theme--death." Starring Errol Morris, Werner Herzog and Phillip Glass. Directed by Kevin Macdonald. Produced by Paula Jalfon and Colin MacCabe. A Minerva Pictures production. No distributor set. Documentary. Not yet rated. Running time: 47 min.

Tags: Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, Phillip Glass, Directed by Kevin Macdonald, Produced by Paula Jalfon, Colin MacCabe, A Minerva Pictures production, Documentary, private, detective, chicken, obsession, death

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