The first of a series on documentaries, the post list can be found here.
Errol Morris is my favorite documentary filmmaker (sorry Werner!) and one of my favorite filmmakers in general. His movies are beautifully crafted, he knows how to unfold a story, and he gets his viewpoint across through the footage he uses without overtly interfering. I have enjoyed everything I have seen by him, I really believe his films are a cut above most of what you see out there.
Gates of Heaven was Morris' first feature, and it's amazingly good. Roger Ebert called it one of the ten best films of all time. As with all his work that I have seen, it's dead-pan but incredibly tender. He has a way of bringing out people's idiosyncrasies without turning them into a mockery. We meet some very interesting individuals, and they just talk, telling us about life, and their dead pets. The film centers around two pet cemeteries, one that was a failure, and one that was a resounding success. That's the subject matter, but really it is about the people. It's a hilarious, absurd, touching look at life, loneliness, and how we cope with death.
His style focuses entirely on the people he is documenting. It's like we are looking them in the face, having a personal conversation. The characters are the lens through which the story develops. They show us objects, give tours, and tell us about their lives. It is through these conversations that the "plot" develops.
Tabloid is his latest film and you can see his style even more developed here. It tells a crazy story of an event that happened in the 70's regarding a beauty queen who flew to England, kidnapped a mormon, and tied him to a bed for days on end. Once again the story is told through the people involved, both the woman who did it and other people who were involved in helping her, or covering her story in the tabloids.
We see the story unfold from many points of view, but something doesn't add up. Each individual has a completely different perception of what happened, how it came about, and who the bad guys were. This tension stands throughout the film. It adds a layer on top of an already bizarre story. This serves to call into question the whole idea of objective documentation. In allowing each person to tell their story, Morris causes us the discomfort of never really knowing what happened. There is a big question mark there that gives a peek behind the curtain.
I could talk about all of his movies, however each one I have seen is excellent, so I would recommend any of them. Vernon, Florida, The Thin Blue Line, and Mr. Death are all available on watch instantly if you do the Netflix thing.