Making the world safe for filmgoers since 2002.
It’s not like I play favorites when it comes to interviews, but I know that with Errol Morris, born this day in 1948, there will be none of the canned answers that sometimes creep into press tour chats. Morris is always ferociously present in the moment, and fully engaged with his interlocutor. There is something quirky about him, but also absolutely authentic, such that you never know what he’s going to answer, or what train of thought his nimble mind will follow.
As evidenced by his body of work: THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988) that catapulted him to fame beyond the rarefied world of the film festival circuit and set free a man on death row; MR. DEATH (1999), about self-delusion and very strong coffee, THE FOG OF WAR (2003), for which he won an Oscar(tm). and in which Robert McNamara opened up to Morris about the known unknowns of modern warfare; STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE (2008) about the legal process ensuing from the Abu Ghraib scandal, and TABLOID (2011), a he-said, she-said exploration of media hype and narcissism run amok, this is a man with a keen sense of curiosity, and a unique way of satisfying it. We should be forever grateful that he has shared it with us. If you have not seen his early work, GATES OF HEAVEN (1978), VERNON, FLORIDA (1981), or the delightful, disturbing FAST, CHEAP, AND OUT OF CONTROL (1997), his birthday is the perfect time to discover one or more of them. They not only challenge pre-conceived notions about the subject matter at hand, but also the very idea of what a documentary is, or should be. Over the years his work, while always meticulously crafted, has become as much a visual panoply of great force, as integral to the storytelling as the people speaking or events described. Skulls shatter in slow motion; coffee is poured using cinematic techniques that evoke the glamour days of Hollywood. The visual potency of cinema has never found a better expression than in Morris’ work.
I’ve been lucky enough to talk to Morris several times over the years. My latest chat was for TABLOID.