Netflix’s six-part series, Wormwood, is brilliant. This is the documentary I’ve been waiting years to see hit popular culture. Wormwood fits perfectly into the grey area at the intersection of fiction and reality. And I am proud to argue against the critics who claim this series is anything other than the most inventive documentary they have seen in ages.
Before you jump to the conclusion that I am an Errol Morris super fan – check out my previous post on Gates of Heaven. I fell asleep and complained about the film being a waste of my time.
Now, back to the gushing …
Impeccable story telling
inventive camera angles (I read there were 10 per an interview)
seamless transitions from collage, to text, to dramatic interpretation, to interview
props for the continuous comparison to Hamlet
excellent usage and collection of archival materials
I could go on and on but, I’m sure you are just about ready to sign on to Netflix and binge watch the series. So, without wasting anyones time :
DRINK PAIRING: Prosecco! This calls for a celebration. Pass the bubbly.
Twitter has become an immediate, collaborative tool for many filmmakers on and off the set. To help write jokes for his speech at the Producers Guild Awards, Judd Apatow hit up his community of followers. Apatow (“Bridesmaids,” 2011, “Knocked Up,” 2007) included this joke from @omitofo: “Inception is really about Hollywood. Everyone’s constantly trying to ruin your dreams so they can make a buck.” Follow Apatow on Twitter (@JuddApatow) and tell him a joke. If you’re lucky, he may just use your creation to amuse and entertain others.
I am a bit of an Errol Morris fan. And I’d love to love this film. Unfortunately, not so much. In the world of documentary film directors, Errol Morris, is, you know, kind of a big deal. His interview style – shallow depth of field, stream of consciousness, direct eyeline with the camera is a style other filmmakers emulate and study. (why am I telling you about it, when you can watch an interview about it here.) Many a bad interview I have seen and thought “Where is Errol Morris when you need him?”
“Gates of Heaven” is a story about two pet cemeteries. One is a failure. One is a success. Morris interviews the kooky and occasionally delusional nutjobs that have chosen this profession as well as those poor mourning souls who chose to shell out cash to get their dead pets a permanent view. The film is really entirely interviews. No narration, no soundtrack, no particular story arc. It’s a series of interview selects juxtaposed against one another. On one side – the heart-warming failure who wanted so badly to honor dead collies that he failed to run a successful business – on the other a cold-hearted businessman who “reprocesses” dead animals into “usable products.”
In later films, this juxtaposing of people telling the same story from personally distinct viewpoints is a sophisticated story telling device creating narrative tension. (You should watch The Thin Blue Line, really, you should) Here it becomes kind of a narrative slop.
“Gates of Heaven” was Errol Morris’ first feature length documentary shot in the late 1970’s. And to be frank, it shows. Not just in the long sideburns, sunglasses as thick as bread, and pant-waists at the ribs. But also in the long rambly interview bites that are part of a young filmmaker just finding his style. Interview “bites” is the wrong word. It’s shot on film – a film roll is about 11 minutes long. Many of these people yammer on for about 10 minutes – or the length of time it would take for Morris to finish asking a question and the person to start talking. We’re really seeing whole independent monologues. While Errol Morris is famous for that style of interview that does encourage a subject to yammer on – this first film is overindulgent while he experiments with it. At least these interviews are well-conceived and aesthetically fascinating. There is plenty to look at in the background while you zone out in boredom from what these poor folks are actually saying.
As a student of documentary film, I think this was a valuable film to watch. This interview style was clearly conceived and executed – and the opportunity to watch Morris first work was fascinating. As a person recommending films to others, I’d have to say, skip it. If you want to see Errol Morris’ mature work and actually enjoy it, try watching The Thin Blue Line or The Fog of War. If you enjoy conceptual art – where the thinking of the method is more important than the result, watch this one.
For the inhabitants of this Southern town, there’s no place like home for the rest of us, there’s no place like Vernon, Florida! From the passionate turkey-hunter to the peculiar pet collector, each member of this motley crew has a story to tell. And in the masterful hands of Morris, their obsessions and eccentricities reveal the heart and soul of an unabashedly unique slice of the American pie!
When financial hardship forces California’s Foothill Pet Cemetery to close its pearly gates, its dearly departed loved ones are relocated to the nearby Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park. During this tense transition, filmmaker Morris meets a collection of eccentric cemetery operators and anguished animal-lovers and elicits a meditation on love and loneliness that’s “strange, chilling [and] appallingly funny” (Newsweek).