Movie Review: “Gates of Heaven” Errol Morris 1978

Documentary

Personal Blurb-style Intro (aka “Why I picked up this book”):

Errol Morris made a huge impression on me when I watched “Fog of War” in the former theater at Midvale (Mall?) in Madison Wisconsin. The theater has since been torn down, but the memory lives on.

I have always been sensitive to animals. My mom grew up on a farm, so she was very sensible about animals, though perhaps more matter-of-fact that appealed to me. Though my allergies limited my pet access as I muddled through undergrad, traveled and domineered law school, I shortly thereafter indulged in pet ownership and have never looked back. Maki and Panther are a part of the family, and though I prefer cremation or another natural form of decomposition (as opposed to internment), they will be honored in death as they have been in life. I am grateful that I live in a time and society afforded such luxury.

When I met my husband, Dave, he loved Errol Morris and has been introducing me to his other work over time. The subject matter, a pet cemetery, intrigued me – more or less because I love my pets and because of my 80s fascination with Pet Semetary (remember the little boy, Gage?).  This movie is amazingly brilliant, with a simple and direct display of human understanding, emotion and complexity…ah, but now I’m slipping into review-mode. On we go!

Summary:

*This is a pretty long review for the relative amount of content in the documentary. However, the bits I’ve included are just a small part of what makes this documentary amazing. For the best results, just rent it /buy it and watch it for yourself. If you still need further persuading, re what I’ve said below.

Errol Morris portrays opposing sides, a rendering company against a simple farmer animal-loving sensitive soul, Floyd “Mac” McClure.

But don’t be mistaken that Floyd is so animal friendly as to be vegetarian, or vegan. In one scene he bitterly describes how the fumes from the rendering company interfered in his dinner;

Then, we slowly watch the plans for McClure’s ideal pet cemetery disintegrate as the financial interests conflict with the sentimental ones. We also see the tensions arising between pet-owners in the community over the status of their pet graves.

One of the most interesting parts of watching this documentary is the way the characters bare their souls, largely without agenda. It is easy to see that even the businessmen are operating without an agenda, especially when the manager of the rendering plant admits they lie about rendering zoo animals. In this day and age of reality TV, it is refreshing to watch these characters. Don’t worry, there are still the eye-roll-inducing characters – like the sons of the California pet cemetery owners. Maybe it was less pathetic back then? Or maybe just less awareness of the way entitled children sound so pathetic? (btw, I actually adore the younger son, he is so earnest.)

Best Lines & Watch for’s:

Floyd “Mac” McClure:  North Dakota guy (with suspenders and red pen in his lapel, scales of justice visible behind him on his right side and the bronzed shoes behind him on the other side) “[That]…was the most beautiful piece of land, as far as I was concerned, in the whole valley. And boy, I knew what to do with it. Make it into a pet cemetary.”

Watch for: Guy with the Coors can and ashtray in front of him every time he’s featured in the documentary.

Rendering Industry Man: “Rendering is one of the oldest industries. It dates back to the time of the Egyptians.  They can trace it back this far. Rendering. In the bible, ya know, way back in the old testament, the guy cut off the sheep skin, right? And put it over’im. Put the lamb fat on’im ta keep ‘im warm. It could be the oldest industry in the world. It could be. It’s possible.” [Jill says: keep an ear out for this guy, all of his words are gems. Probably because of his sunglasses on his desk, his matter-of-fact demeanor, and the amused look on his face. Genius play, Mr. Morris.]

“I want my mama!” (Woman holding dog on lap, singing to prompt dog’s response).

“And the next day you go out, take flowers,  maybe meditate a little bit, think of how often, maybe, you cried into her fur. ” (Woman in green and white, with poodle portrait displayed behind her).

Watch for: Artistic depiction of putting one’s heart over the dollars in a project.

Floyd: “I was not only broke, but broken-hearted.”

Woman in pink apron over blue/brown print housedress: “But you know he (her son) should help me more, he’s all I got. He’s the one who brought me up here. And then put me here by myself among strangers. It’s terrible when you stop ‘n think about it.” [Watch this entire segment! Amazing.]

Successful pet cemetery owner, (Bubbling Well Church of Universal Love, Inc. 1977), in straw hat and blue button-up shirt: ” “I would say that the pill is largely more responsible for the pet explosion than any other factor…It’s very simple…today the husband and wife both work…when the young mother comes home, she has to have something to fondle, something to mother, something to love.”

Watch for: The “R2A2” formula and it’s red-phone poolside inventor.

There are so many other rich characters and moments that I have to pause now and recommend that, if you are hooked by now, you should just go ahead and rent the movie.

Wait! The Eagle trophy guy just said “People never really get negative and they never really get positive.” GEMS, people! I tell you, gems.

Watch for: Prickly pear cacti behind the yellow-shirted and orange-tank topped couple – just like in Sicily!

IMDB Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077598/

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