And a happy 65th to Errol Morris, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, author, and opinionator for the New York Times, who just the other day tweeted a bit of very good news: “It seems like A Brief History of Time will be remastered and rereleased by Criterion. (This is excellent.)” Yes, it is.
Last March, Ron Rosenbaum wrote a lengthy profile for Smithsonian Magazine, calling Morris “one of America’s most idiosyncratic, prolific and provocative public intellectuals.” He also noted that “Roger Ebert called his first film, Gates of Heaven, one of ‘the ten greatest films ever made.’ With The Thin Blue Line, Morris dramatically freed an innocent man imprisoned on a murder rap. In The Fog of War he extracted a confession from Robert McNamara, getting the tightly buttoned-up technocrat to admit ‘[we] were behaving as war criminals’ for planning the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo, which burned to death 100,000 civilians in a single night.” And that was the doc Morris won the Oscar for.
While it’s not his best film, one of my own favorites has always been the short he made for the Academy which opened Oscar Night in 2002. Terrific use of that trademark Interrotron, too:
One interview you’ll definitely not want to pass up is the Believer‘s transcription of a conversation between Morris and Werner Herzog that took place at Brandeis University in the fall of 2007. Herzog’s opener:
Walking out of one of your films, I always had the feeling—the sense that I’ve seen a movie, that I’ve seen something equivalent to a feature film. That’s very much the feeling of the feature film Vernon, Florida or even the film with McNamara—The Fog of War. Even there I have the feeling I’ve seen a feature, a narrative feature film with an inventive narrative structure and with a sort of ambience created that you only normally create in a feature film, in an inventive, fictionalized film.
The new film that I saw, Standard Operating Procedure, feels as if you had completely invented characters, and yet they are not. We know the photos, and we know the events and we know the dramas behind it. And yet I always walk out feeling that I have seen a feature film, a fiction film.
“Ten years from now,” wrote Jason Bellamy, launching a conversation in 2009 with Ed Howard about Morris’s work at the House Next Door, “if not sooner, when people refer to Standard Operating Procedure, they’ll call it Errol Morris’ film about Abu Ghraib. But anyone who has seen the film, and certainly anyone who has heard Morris discuss it, knows that the prisoner abuse scandal that unfolded at the notorious Baghdad prison wasn’t the subject of the documentarian’s investigation. For Morris, the scandal is coincidental context. What Standard Operating Procedure is actually about is the elusiveness of unambiguous truth in photojournalism.” A theme Morris has returned to over and again, not only on film but at the NYT and in his latest book as well, A Wilderness of Error.
Morris is currently completing his next doc, The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld, and preparing to shoot his first narrative feature in a while, Freezing People Is Easy.
More on Morris: Elizabeth Cline and Justin Gustainis (Film Reference).